Tuesday, May 31

LaTroy Hawkins and the Trade

There is a universal sentiment amongst us members of LB that getting rid of LaTroy was a wise thing to do on Hendry's part, and albeit rather belatedly, I wanted to know and write more about the men we received in return from sunny San Francisco. For a while this mysterious duo were known to the world as "two top pitching prospects", but it was high time that this veil was lifted and their identities exposed. Whether or not they turn out to be mini-Hawkins is another matter, but for the time being, I present to you MegaHawkins.

Jerome Williams, SP/RP

Jerome "Honeymoon" Williams has been in the majors since roughly 2003, seeing 43 starts over the 2003 and 2004 seasons as a 4th or 5th starter in the rotation. This season was penciled in to be more of the same, although a rough start scared the organization into moving him to the minors (a LaTroy-esque 0-2, 6.48 ERA in 3 starts).

With a fastball in the low-90s and a slider that does the pitch's name justice, Williams' rookie season in 2003 was impressive - 7-5 in 22 starts, 3.30 ERA, 49 BB, 88 K in 131 IP. The offseason saw the beginning of the end for him and San Fran, as he put on weight and didn't keep up any kind of workout regimen. At 6-3 and 246 lbs, he struggled with injury through 2004, eventually succumbing in July to elbow surgery needed to remove bone chips and a bone spur in his throwing arm.

He has reasonable talent - with the hit-heavy Giants, control problems with his fastball have largely gone unpunished, but it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table. Hendry is a (sporadically) smart guy, and understood the need for more versatility with his pitching staff at large, and Williams can definitely contribute in the controlled fashion that guys like Dempster, Novoa, Ohman and Wellemeyer have done this season. If used correctly, and that falls on Dusty's toothpicked shoulders, Williams can give them enough to ease through this tricky mid-season rotation-light period.

The Giants were expecting 10-to-15 wins this season, and the Cubs should well expect the same, depending on whether he becomes that 5th starter (Look closely at Leicester's start this week, as the success/failure of that will go a long way to making that decision)

EDIT: Leicester isn't starting as I previously discovered, instead Iowa Cub John Koronka will take Prior's place in the rotation on Thursday.

David Aardsma, RP

"The Big Save", or "First Major League Listed Alphabetically", Aardsma joins a long line of unknown quantities in the bullpen. Man of mystery and little major league experience, the career saves leader at Rice University (including their National Championship-winning campaign in 2003 -- transferred to Texas after a freshman year with LB staffers' alma mater Penn State!) begins his Chicago journey side-by-side with Williams in the minor leagues.

He has been comfortable there since being the Giants' top pick in the 2003 draft, recording a 7-6 record with 19 saves and an honorable 2.81 ERA in 62 appearances at AAA-Fresno.

In the majors, he's functioned in a middle relief role, and showed nowhere near that control: 1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1 BSV in 11 games (20 H, 8 ER, 10 BB, 5 K in 10 2/3 IP, BAA .417, WHIP 2.81)

He has an definite upside to him, given his collegiate and minor-league experience, and like with most specific situation-only relievers in the Cubs bullpen, he could enjoy some success in limited outings and steady development.

4-Game Win Streak!!!

Hello, all, I return to you after a long weekend in the Big Apple, a weekend which saw me at Yankee Stadium for the 17-1 rout by the Red Sox (I got to witness my first Grand Slam, thanks, Renteria!) and the Memorial Bender in Brooklyn, which included the consumption of large quantities of whiskey and beer with everyone's favorite limey, JT. Ah, rooftop shenanigans, may they never cease...

4.25 hours and 17 dead roadside deer from Brooklyn I was happily parked on my couch watching the first of the Cubs' West Coast road trip. And it was good from the get-go. Hairston put the second pitch he faced in the left field bleachers for an early 1-0 lead, and the Cubs rolled downhill the rest of the way. Maddux put together a solid outing, allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, through 6 innings. On two separate occassions Maddux showed with great reflexes why he has earned 14 Gold Gloves in previous seasons.

One of these plays was when Derrek Lee (fellow Gold Glover and well-respected for his defensive capabilities) stopped a sharply hit ground ball with a diving catch towards second. Laying on his chest with feet flailing above the ground behind him, he didn't have enough time to stand up and make a good throw to 1st for the out, so he simply rolled onto his back and tossed it to Maddux who was running over to cover first. The throw was somewhat behind Maddux, who quickly made the adjustment to glove the toss and step on the bag in time for the out. If I make no sense to you, watch Baseball Tonight or Sportcenter, because that play was probably a Web Gem.

The other play showcasing Maddux's reflexes happened when a line drive was hit (gasp!) directly at his head! Talk about lady luck gunning for the Cubs pitchers! Luckily Maddux, unlike Prior (or Borowski for that matter, the other Cub pitcher who has been plunked so far this year), is a control pitcher rather than a power pitcher. He has better mechanics when he throws the ball, and always ends a pitch square with homeplate and with both feet planted. This allows him more control of his body if he needs to react to a ball hit near him, and in this case, he was able to duck out of the way at the last possible millisecond. He had to hear that ball whizzing by his ear as he moved.

Other hightlights of this game for me involved Aramis Ramirez continuing to bounce back from a slow start. In his best at bat of the evening he LITERALLY smacked the skin off the baseball with a dinger to left. Barrett also had a solid game, hitting a 2 run homer of his own.

Todd Wellemeyer came into the game in the seventh inning and pitched an impressive 1-2-3 inning. But when he came back out to pitch the eighth, he was clearly having some control issues. That kid can throw a fastball, let me tell you what, but he walked the first two batters of the eighth on 8 straight balls. After a visit to the mound, he managed to get Jason Werth to hit a grounder to short for a much needed double play (after a pretty strong at-bat by Werth). Ohman came in for the final out of the eighth with a runner on third and got JD Drew to hit a grounder to first. Dempster came in to close out the ninth with the score 5-2. His outing was solid, although he did give up a 1-out solo homerun to Olmedo Saenz. However, as I've said before, it is in these kinds of games where we can afford to give up a run, in retrospect of course. Dempster proceeded to fan the next two batters for his 5th save of the season.

The bullpen was impressive to me last night, even given Wellemeyer's struggles in the eighth. He got himself out of the jam with a double play, and Ohman continues to impress. The collective bullpen stats: 3.0 IP, 1 hit, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. I'll take it, especially in a game where they were handed a 3 run lead to protect.

Tonights matchup: The statistically similar Zambino vs. Brad Penny. Let's hope we can keep those bats hot!

Notes: The Cubs lead the majors with 65 homeruns hit and 387 K's by the pitchers. The Cubs have lead the big leagues in K's each of the last 4 seasons. A disclaimer for myself, I paraphrased these notes directly from ESPN.com's Cubs' homepage.

Monday, May 30

Rising from the Ashes

Monday has come, and with a little West Coast sojourn on the cards, reflection is due from yet another W3 series (Wacky Wrigley Weekend). Four games against one of the weakest teams in the league (according to the stats, of course, but don't tell Brad Hawpe's line-drives that they are weak) didn't hurt matters, but regardless of notching 3 straight wins on the back of some righteous offense, it seems that once again the cost far outweighed the purchase.

Given the rough stretch into which our Cubbies dive headfirst, it hardly helps our chances of preserving .500 given that another key figure is hurt, albeit freakishly, and we can look forward to upcoming series against the following teams through the end of June:

3 games @ Los Angeles Dodgers (26-23)
4 games @ San Diego Padres (31-19)
3 games vs. Toronto Blue Jays (27-23)
3 games vs. Boston Red Sox (27-22)
3 games vs. Florida Bartmans (27-20)
3 games @ New York Yankees (27-23)
4 games @ Milwaukee Brewers (24-25)
3 games @ Chicago White Sox (33-17)
3 games vs. Milwaukee Brewers

That, my friends and LB faithful, is a rough month indeed - a combined record of 195-172 - but of course, I am still optimistic. As a friend pointed out, the Cubs are not the only team struggling with injuries, and despite the W-L record of our June-time foes, there is a prevailing parity that will see us win half of these games, as I see it. We might just need a lot of Todd Walker pinch-hit HRs to get us there (1st career PH HR yesterday - good stuff Hot Rod).

Overall, the Rockies series was a successful one, and not just because of winning 3 of 4. Despite Prior's injury (which I'll get to later today as Day 6 of the Liverpool FC-induced bender, along with delicious analysis of the recent trade that saw the Hawk flee the nest for warmer shores, and Embarcadero, I suspect), offensive bursts came left, right and center from some key figures.

After riding him last week, Aramis "Whopper with Cheese" Ramirez slapped a few pitches around Jeff Gordon's beloved hunting grounds, enjoying an impressive weekend - 6-13, 2 HR, 7 RBI in the 3 wins alone.

The Burning Man in RF also enjoyed some offense: 2-5, HR, 4 RBI in Sunday's 11-6 win.

The Cubs scored 28 runs in the 4 games, conceding 15, and showed general pleasure derived from winning baseball games.

The rotation is a bit Charlie Sheen for the moment, but our batting lineup is positively Charles Bronson. With a little help across the board from a fresh and erratic bullpen, this next month might not be so bad.

Prior, Hawkins and the pitching prospects -- coming soon to LB. Today.

Sunday, May 29

500 BABY!!

Two posts in one day?! Who do I think I am, JT? Anyway, on to the baseball…

With today’s decisive win, the cubs are back to .500. If this were a red stripe commerical, I'd be yelling "HOORAY CUBS!." Now, they need to keep this kind of playing up.

This afternoon’s game was an exciting one. See the boxscore for the raw stats.

There were three lead changes throughout the game and it looked like it was going to be a battle until the end. That is, until Burnitz came up to bat in the bottom of the 6th. Burnitz went yard with a three run shot to extend the Cubs’ lead to four. It was smooth sailing from there and Todd Walker added an insurance run with a pinch hit dinger in the 7th.

Pros from this afternoon:
Our offense got off Lee’s back. Ramirez seems to be coming out of slump and went 3-5 today driving in four runs. Burnitz also brought home four runs.

The bullpen came through in a big way. The Rockies were doing well at the plate with Mitre on the mound but when our relievers came in, the Rockies' bats cooled off. No runs were allowed with our relievers on the hill (always a good thing). Novoa (I’m really liking this guy – he can definitely bring some heat) finished off the sixth, and Borowski, Wuertz and Ohman each worked a full inning. Can’t ask for much more...

As for Mitre’s performance today, I’m not going to complain or list it as a con but it could have been better. The Rockies were consistently lighting him up and if it weren’t for our smokin’ bats, we would have been in trouble.

As I see it, not much to complain about. The only thing I can possibly bring up is Hairston getting picked off in the sixth. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no excuse. Stay awake and don’t attempt to steal (as Hairston was) unless you’re sure that ball is heading for home.

In other, semi-cub related news, Hawkins made his San Fran debut this afternoon. He worked the 8th for the Giants striking out one and allowing no runs. Good for him. Either way…I’m glad we’re rid of him and, as our bullpen proved today, we have relievers that can get the job done.

One more thing: Cub of the week is going to be a tough pick this week. Anyone reading have a suggestion (remember, we're already honored Lee a couple of times and we need to spread the love around)?

Cubbies Poised To Get Back To .500

After two impressive wins over the Rockies (10-3 on 5/27 and 5-1 on 5/28), the Cubs are one win away from .500. While it’s an arbitrary number, it provides some reassurance the Cubs aren’t a failing ball club even though they’re 8.5 games behind the division squashing Cards.

The most notable aspect of the last two games has been the Cubs’ offense: 15 runs coming from 21 hits (seven of which were homers, four from D. Lee). It’s hard to lose putting up numbers like that. Let’s hope we can continue to produce…

…which brings me to the source of most of my Cubs-related frustration: consistency. We’ve been hot and cold all season, win 3, drop 2, win 2 etc. Our bats get hot (the past two days for example) then we have trouble putting up more than two runs. I’m not sure what Dusty has been saying over the weekend but he needs to keep it up so we can keep giving our starters healthy run support.

Now on to pitching…a lot of stuff going on here. First of all, I’m sure everyone has heard about Prior so I’ll spare you the details. He’s out of the picture for quite a while. Second, we got rid of LaTroy. Personally, I think we got a great deal in this trade. Hawkins has had some bright spots this season but time after time he collapsed in the 9th which is unacceptable. Whatever’s going on in his head, I hope San Fran is a better place to work it out because it wasn’t happening in Chicago. In return for Hawkins, we get Jerome Williams and David Aardsma. Both are promising in my opinion and have the potential to be molded into a decent starter and closer respectively. I haven’t researched these guys extensively so if anyone else cares to comment on this acquisition, feel free.

This afternoon’s match up is Mitre v. Francis. Mitre was impressive (relative to other Cubs’ pitchers starting performances this season) in his last outing going seven innings and allowing only two runs. With a similar performance today, I’m confident the Cubs well be at .500 by this evening. Anyone else care to add anything?

P.S. Just to clarify, my name has nothing to do with the now-giants pitcher LaTroy Hawkins. Go back a little further in Cubs’ history to link my name to a former Cubbie.

Friday, May 27

Back to the Action, the Cubs slip and slide

The Colorado Rockies, ladies and gentlemen. A frustrating opponent, given their ability to scratch out wins even though their win-loss record would say otherwise. There is power there, and a little luck, and the Cubs had no response. Nothing.

Jason Jennings, 2-6 on the season with a 6.37 ERA (Career: 45-40, 5.15), tossed 7 innings of 1-hit, 1-run baseball, stifling the Cubs and giving them the game. The Cubs stranded 8 on base, just looking awful with the bat.

The Cubs sole run came from a Todd Walker RBI (welcome back, Hot Rod), scoring Barrett from 2nd. In contrast, the Rockies scored 5 runs and left 6 on base, with the cold Preston Wilson (not cold anymore, it would seem) being the main destroyer - 2-4, HR, 2 RBI.

It was just bad bad bad from the Cubbies - with several chances to jump back into the game, we were impotent. The best example came in the 8th, against nervy Jay Witasick. After relieving Jennings who allowed a Neifi single to right and walked Walker, Witasick faced runners on 1st and 2nd with 0 outs and the meat of the lineup ahead. Derrek Lee popped out to first on his FIRST PITCH, Burnitz grounded out to second on his THIRD PITCH, and Ramirez grounded out to first on his SECOND PITCH. There you go Witasick - we get ourselves out, so you don't have to.

I don't feel like talking about this game much longer given the outcome, although Mr. Computer Carlos pitched reasonably well. After all the media brouhaha surrounding his email sessions, he threw 110 pitches in 7 innings of work - 5 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K - not his best, but not his worst either. Carlos took the loss, and fell to 3-3 on the season so far.

Today should be better, with Prior on the mound. 2.20 PM ET start, let's get our shit together.

COL: LHP Joe Kennedy • 3-4, 6.56 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 3.60 ERA in 2004 vs. CHC
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 4-1, 2.95 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 0.00 ERA in 2004 vs. COL

Thursday, May 26

This Limey can Sing

So the hangover is wearing off slowly, and I have to abuse my powers here at LB to divert attention from the Cubs for a moment (they lost 5-1, so there you go) to bring out the Limey in me.

As a transplanted Scouser living in Brooklyn, watching the Mighty Reds yesterday was unbelievable. The lads of Liverpool FC pulled off perhaps the biggest and best comeback in European football history to defeat the overwhelming favorites, the Rossonieri of AC Milan. Very few people will understand the specifics of the situation, but having been a lifelong fan of those hard-working, working-class boys of LFC, all the Cubs fans will understand too (and my obsession with them grows stronger by the day), and there is a method to my whisky-soaked madness.

The Champions League, a tournament that decides the best team in Europe, enjoyed its championship game last night, and my boys were the overwhelming underdogs to a "classier, more talented" Italian side.

After just 50 seconds, the Italians went 1-0 up - one of the best Italian players in history, Paolo Maldini volleying in a corner kick.

After 38 minutes, the Italians went 2-0 up - great goal that we were powerless to defend.

After 43 minutes, the Italians went 3-0 up - again, superb play from AC Milan leading to an easy finish.

That is when the whisky started pouring, my team on the verge of historic embarrassment.

After half-time, the lads came out with a purpose, putting together flowing passes and beginning to seriously threaten AC Milan's goal, something they hadn't done up to that point. Led by our heroic captain, England great Steven Gerrard (only 23!!!!), we pulled a goal back - a pin-point header from Gerrard from a cross into the box.

3-1. With further pressure on the Italians mounting, just 3 minutes later the lads pulled back another goal, 3-2, with a cracking right-foot shot from 22 yards. 3 minutes later again, with Liverpool swarming all over the pitch, Gerrard wins a penalty. Foregone conclusion?

The Brazilian 'keeper, Dida (a man who's made a career of saving penalty kicks) saved it, but Xabi Alonso pounced on his own rebound to knock it home.

3-3, scoring 3 second-half goals in 6 minutes (a record) and coming back from the biggest deficit in European Championship history (previous biggest deficit overcome: 1-0).

A nervy 30 minutes rounded out the game, and after a scoreless extra-time, it went to penalties.

Liverpool's keeper, the great Pole Jerzy Dudek, saved 3 penalties to give Liverpool a historic win, 3-2 on penalties, and their first European Championship in 21 years.

Why am I boring you with all of this? Well, as cliche as it sounds, this sort of legend does happen. If Liverpool can do it, so can the Cubs. They need what Liverpool had last night - guts, fire, heart, determination, and all those other Hollywood sports movie emotions. No substitute from hardwork, and it sent the Italians back home to think about how they possibly let their chance slip.

Back on the drink I think! LIVERPOOL FC, EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS 2004/05!

Liverpool Upset at Halftime
3-0 down, 45 minutes to go

One Goal

2 Goals
3-2, 3 minutes later

3 Goals
3-3, a whole new game

The Final Save
The Final Save, Liverpool win

Champions of Europe
Liverpool FC, The Mighty Reds, Champions of Europe

AC Milan: Dida, Cafu, Maldini, Stam, Nesta, Gattuso (Rui Costa 112), Seedorf (Serginho 86), Pirlo, Kaka, Shevchenko, Crespo (Tomasson 85).
Subs Not Used: Abbiati, Kaladze, Costacurta, Dhorasoo.

Goals: Maldini 1, Crespo 39, 44.

Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan (Hamann 46), Traore, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Gerrard, Luis Garcia, Alonso, Kewell (Smicer 23), Baros (Cisse 85).
Subs Not Used: Carson, Josemi, Nunez, Biscan.
Booked: Carragher, Baros.

Goals: Gerrard 54, Smicer 56, Alonso 59.

Att: 65,000.

Ref: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain).

Wednesday, May 25

The Sergio is Mitre-ier!

I smell the blood of a three-game winning streak

Sergio Mitre, aka "The Minor League Engine that Could", stole the limelight from an impressive and surely depressed Roger Clemens last night, propelling the Cubs to an 8th Inning 4-run rally built on goatee power.

It was a pleasure to listen to, hearing Santo make a noise other than a pissed-off groan or "Oh God no, not again, Goddammnit". The Cubs, trailing thanks to two back-to-back fielder's choice RBIs in the 4th inning, took advantage of their luck and rode timely hitting to a late rally.

A rare pinch-hit RBI from Todd "Bacon" Hollandsworth scored Dubois from 2nd, and from there the Cubs attacked Astros closer Brad Lidge. With 2 outs and the bases loaded, Burnitz slapped a pitch to right, scoring Hairy and Nairy, and Ramirez worked his at-bat until Lidge slung a wild pitch, scoring Derrek Lee for a 4-2 margin.

Dempster tossed a perfect 1-2-3 9th for his 4th save and *gasp* second in 2 days, adding a strikeout for good measure.

Moving on, we have another game against the floundering Astros - show no mercy tonight and sweep the series. Milwaukee is still winning, as is St. Louis, so we need to keep this form going. A 4-game weekend series against the beatable Rockies, although they might make us score 9 runs a game to beat them.

In honour of Jeff Gordon's tremendous performance with the microphone, I present to you today's heroes and villains.

Winners and Losers - NASCAR edition

1. Sergio Mitre, SP
Pitching like Dennis Quaid on steroids, Mitre pulled the Cubs through 7 innings, keeping them in the hunt and giving them a chance for their 8th inning alchemy. Mitre walked 1 and struck out 5 in 108 pitches of work (Dusty is clockwork with his magic number), allowing 2 ER on 5 hits in the process. It was more than anyone could have expected from him, and for that, he did us proud.

2. Jeromy Burnitz, RF
Burny, slapping balls like there's no tomorrow, guffed that 2-out single through the infield that scored the tying and game-winning runs in the 8th Inning. It was his only hit of the day, and if his single hit-per-game is one as heroic as that, I don't care if he goes 1-5 every night.

1. Brad Lidge, RP
Brad "2-Inning" Lidge, the Astros' hero time and again during the 2004 postseason with his 8th and 9th labors, buggered up the game today, gifting two wild pitches and 2 walks in his 2/3 inning of work, setting the stage for Burny's bonanza.

2/3 IP, H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 26 pitches (14 strikes)

Sorry Brad, tomorrow is another day.

2. Roger Clemens, SP
I'm also sorry to nominate the legendary Rocket, but his bad luck is unending. I worry that if the Astros don't give him more offense, he will slink back to the Bronx, so for everyone's sake score some goddamn runs. (Rant over)

But seriously, luck was not on his side, leaving the game with back problems after having roundly dominated the Cubs order through 5 innings. Striking out 6 and allowing only 2 hits through his economical 68 pitches of work (47 strikes!), his injury prevented him from surely clinching his 4th win of the season, and I genuinely feel bad. Get well soon, today you're in the pits.

So, to today. Another game against the Astros under the Wrigley Stadium floodlights, and the Cubs' old hand Maddux gets a crack and keeping the good vibes alive. This game might hinge on the likes of Corey Patterson, whose sore wrist kept him out of the lineup (and gave Enrique Wilson a start at 2B: 0-2, BB, 2 LOB) but whose recent fortunes have been music for the eyes - 7-for-15 in his last four games, and against the Astros' starter Brandon Backe, he is 4-9 lifetime. Delicious.

Other gents to watch (stats are lifetime vs. opponent's starter):

CUBS (OK, so these don't really mean anything)
C Michael Barrett -- 4-8
RF Burnitz -- 3-5

ASTROS (These are a little more meaningful)
C Brad Ausmus -- 13-35
2B Craig Biggio -- 32-109
LF Lance Berkman -- 6-15

HOU: RHP Brandon Backe • 3-3, 5.15 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 5.14 ERA in 2005 vs. CHC
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 2-2, 4.12 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 3.00 ERA in 2005 vs. HOU

Jeff Gordon...

Story Here

Well, I saw this live last night and knew he was in trouble as soon as he said "Wrigley Stadium." The attempt at Take Me Out To the Ball Game was one of the worst I've seen. He flubbed the ENTIRE song and just nervously laughed the entire time. I have no sympathy for this him and didn't feel the least bit guilty for laughing while he made an ass of himself. "I mean, come. on." It's Take Me Out To the Ball Game...who DOESN'T know the words?!?

Tuesday, May 24

Hey, we could be playing the Royals instead...

So, the first Interleague series is in the books. It might be better if it wasn't, as the weekend allowed the Cardinals to open up a little more breathing room given their fierce competition against the Royals at the same time.

The Cubs series was punctuated with the season's hallmarks so far: 2-out RBIs, bullpen collapses, and Dusty Baker's enigmatic managerial style. Rather than go through game by game straight-up, I've got some winners and losers for the weekend. But first, to warm up, some beloved stats and observations.

- Scoring
The series scoring broke fairly evenly, with the White Sox on top 13-8. Of the 11 series runs coming with two outs, the split was 6-5 Southside.

- Starting Pitching Fun
The Cubs trio (Maddux, Zambrano, Prior) threw an average of 14.74 pitches per Inning, while the White Sox (Freddy Garcia, Contreras, McCarthy) tossed 13.35 PPI.

As it breaks down:
White Sox - 258 pitches, 168 strikes, 76 batters faced (Avg. 3.40 pitches per Batter)
Cubs - 339 pitches, 212 strikes, 89 batters faced (Avg. 3.80 PPB)

So what does all this mean? It could mean a plethora of things, depending on your interpretation. The Cubs 3 threw 23 innings of work compared to 19 1/3 from the White Sox, the difference coming on Sunday when McCarthy left after 5 1/3 while Prior tossed a complete game.

Dusty seems to be gravitating more towards an old-school approach - screw the concept of middle relief, and let your starters go as deep as their arms will allow, while completely disregarding the pitch counts. (If you count Rusch's effort vs. Houston last night, which I will get to later on, he went 8 Innings, throwing 108-69, facing 29: 3.74 PPB ... not bad for a part-time starter and bullpen guy)

While it could be a smart move in the interim to ride the hot pitching and get the team back on track, the idea of exhausting the starting rotation because you don't necessarily trust your bullpen on a daily basis isn't entirely wise. The only way to improve their confidence and collective team faith in their abilities is to let them pitch and figure it out, as opposed to hiding them in the dugout all night while Glendon Rusch pops his tendons out with every change-up.

It's just something to think about - I'm curious to hear any other interpretations of this emerging trend. Look for LB to bust out the PPB and PPI stats a bit more from now on, if they mean anything at all.

Winners and Losers : Jimi Hendrix "Cross-Town Traffic" Edition

1. Paul Konerko, 1B
The burly White Sock socked more than his fair share over the series, batting 5-12 with a HR, 4 RBI and 2 R. It represented the best of a balanced Southside offense, and it also showed Konerko's best D-Lee impression (2-9, RBI, R this weekend).

2. Joe Borowski, RP
Return of the Joe! The Massive Messiah himself took the mound for real on Friday night, and managing to give the Cubs something to cheer about on an otherwise disappointing evening. He pitched a scoreless, hitless 9th inning, tossing 14 pitches (9 strikes) in a 1-2-3 outing. While the Cubs still lost, Borowski's assured and fire-throwing performance gives the bullpen a new saviour, and hopefully one that can perform and even close in tandem with the steadying Ryan Dempster.

3. Mark Prior, SP
Despite excellent pitching performances all round this weekend on both sides

Freddy Garcia: 7 IP, 5 H, BB, 3 K
Jose Contreras: 7 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 4 K
Carlos Zambrano: 7 IP, H, 3 BB, 8 K (Took a no-hitter into the 5th)

to name but 3, Mark Prior is the 3rd Foxiest Lady this series witnessed. Surrounded by a scrappy and gutsy performance by the offense, Prior saw just enough runs scratched out by the Cubs lineup to keep him in the hunt, tossing the complete game (6 H, 3 ER, 7 K) to steal a win from the Southside. He was calm, he was fiery, he was Zambrano-esque, pitching with emotion and heart and getting himself out of any trouble he cared to get himself in for the full 9 innings. Simply superb, and I hope that Wood and Wuertz were watching and taking notes before they turn it around.

1. Juan Uribe, 2B/SS
Poor Juan. Perhaps the only Sock to Suck with the bat overall, he enjoyed a wonderful 0-11 performance, striking out 3 times and leaving 5 men on base during his time at the plate. Perhaps a call from an equally lacklustre Jose Reyes in Queens, NY might help -- the two could learn a lot from each other.

2. Michael Wuertz, RP
Leave it to the Cubs bullpen to produce the ugliest line of the series:

2/3 IP, 3 H, 3 ER

Wuertz relished his time on the Wrigley mound, taking 22 pitches to undo the stellar work of El Toro's 108-pitch flirt with perfection. Squandering the Cubs lead, he gave the undeserving White Sox yet another win and gave the Cardinals a little bit more breathing room in the division standings.

His outing had it all - strikeouts, two consecutive infield singles to Hairy and Neifi respectively (wake-up, Guys) before Konerko brought them home with a single that actually cleared the infield. Leaving the game immediately thereafter, Will Ohman gave Wuertz something else to think about, allowing the inherited runner to score on a Carl Everett double and adding more misery to Michael's precious stats.

The Inning ended with a third pitcher used, and gave the White Sox 4 runs on 5 hits, enough to win and ruin Zambravo's hard work.

3. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Perhaps still troubled by spasms and nightmares of being replaced by Jose Macias in the lineup, our tubby Third Bagger suffered through a difficult weekend, going 1-10 and leaving 5 on base in the process. His average slid to .238 on the season, and the specters of the "Moises Alou/Sammy Sosa Farewell Party" are still hovering a little. Perhaps. His offense is struggling, and as we've all said before, the fate of the season rests on shoulders like his. This slump won't last (3-19, 0 RBI last week), but it doesn't help when you're playing "The Best Team in Baseball" (shhh, I hope I never have to say that again).

Still to come this afternoon, perhaps:
- Cub o' the Week -- whose cuisine reigned supreme?
- The Cubs week Ahead: (Houston + Colorado)*Wrigley = Easy?
- News (if I can find any)

Comment away!

Monday, May 23

Workity Jones - LB updates

Hello again everyone...

It's been a hectic weekend for me, JT, and now that things are winding down (it's Monday night, and the season finale of 24 is entertaining me .... make fun of me for that at your peril), I'm back in Brooklyn and my computer is up and running.

So, to address a number of things, late tonight/tomorrow morning will see the following from me:-

- Thoughts on the White Sox series
- A new Player of the Week
- Thoughts on Zambrano, Prior, the Astros and the upcoming Rockies series

I hope everyone is well and enjoying tonight's game (4-1 Cubs, Top 7 as I write).... I look forward to catching up with the LB team and all our readers extremely soon.

Go go Gadget Glendon!

Sox take two of three from Cubs

Well, we went post-crazy in the day or two leading up to the weekend White Sox series, and since then it's been quiet. The series as a whole was very close, with exception to the first game, where the White Sox won 5-1. Zambrano pitched a beauty of a game in game 2 of the series, leaving after 7 innings and allowing 1 hit. Two problems here are 1) our offense doesn't like scoring runs and 2) our bullpen likes blowing 1 run leads. That's right, in case you haven't looked it up yet, the Cubs led 1-0 when Zambrano left, only to have the lead squandered in a 4 run 8th inning by the bullpen. The Cubs got a couple runs back, but it wasn't enough, as the Sox went on to win 5-3. So what does that tell us? Never pull the starting pitcher... ever. And that's just what Dusty Baker didn't do on Sunday for the 3rd game of the series. Mark Prior pitched a great game, going the whole 9 innings and giving up 3 runs, while the offense managed to put 4 on the board, just enough for the win. This was in large part due to Jason Dubois' 3-run homer, and the other 25% of the scoring came on a solo shot by Henry Blanco. It was good to see some of the less productive Cubs step up and take care of the scoring in this one. Games like this will alleviate some of the pressure from Lee and Burnitz, to name a few. Who knows, maybe one of these days Aramis Ramirez will find his swing again.

Another short post from me, as I'm busy at work. Give us your thoughts and observations from this series by commenting here!

** On another note, a somewhat humorous (depending on your sense of humor... I thought it was funny) article regarding Zambrano's tennis elbow can be found here at Espn.com.

** Here's to the Cubs hopefully beating up a bit on the bottom feeding Astros!

Thursday, May 19

What good's a pitcher anyway?

...without an adequate catcher calling the game, that is. On this day-off for the Cubs I'm going to divert some of our collective attention from the closing pitchers and talk about our catchers for a moment. My curiosity was peaked when contemplating the decision yesterday by Baker to replace Michael Barrett by Henry Blanco in the bottom of the ninth inning -- after Barrett had called the entire game and part of that inning. Did Baker replace Barrett because he could see Dempster getting into trouble, and did he have more faith in Blanco in that position? After all, after Blanco entered the game Sanchez laid down a poor bunt allowing Dempster to get the lead baserunner out. He then got Lawton to hit the ball right to Hairston, Jr, who could have ended the game with a double play. Even after JHJ's error, he got the red-hot Jack Wilson to hit into a game-ending double play. Definitely good pitching by Dempster to get himself out of the jam, but some of that credit should go to Blanco for making the right calls.

So, did Dusty foresee that Blanco was the better man to catch Dempster in the ninth?

Well, not quite. I found that Barrett was pulled because of "recurring stiffness in his right shoulder,"(Yahoo! Sports) but before I found that out I was already salivating all over my computer at the prospect of digging up more stats before this weekend's series with our crosstown rivals. So without further adieu, here we go: Barrett has started 29 games so far this season and Blanco has started the other 9. The Cubs are 13-16 in games Barrett has started and 5-4 in games Blanco has started. Note also that two of Blanco's losses came during the Cubs' abyssmal 7 game losing streak, where the bats were notably quiet. In those two losses, the Cubs scored 1 and 2 runs, respectively, and allowed only 4 and 3 runs. Another feather in Blanco's cap: He was signed by the Cubs after being heralded as the best defensive catcher on the market.

So why isn't Blanco starting more regularly? Let's compare Barrett and Blanco offensively for a moment. Barrett was aquired before the 2004 season from the Montreal Ex-Nationals with the potential of being a great offensive player on the verge of his breakout year... and he didn't disappoint. Barrett hit a very respectable .287 in 2004, starting about 4 out of every 5 games, as Bako remained Maddux's personal catcher. However, this year he definitely started a little slow, batting .253 in March/April. However, in May his bat has gotten hot and he has hit .378 so far, already matching his RBI total for March/April. This yields a season average of .278, slightly higher than the league mean. Blanco started the year even worse, recording 1 hit in March/April for an average of .059. He also has done better in May, hitting .273 thus far.

So is Blanco the better catcher for the Cubs right now? I honestly don't know, but I think Barrett is pretty good behind the plate, and with his bat hot, I'd stick with him if I were managing... but I'll leave the question to the masses... give us all your thoughts!

One "Funny" Thing

Of the 7 Worst Teams in the National League so far, 4 of them are in the NL Central. Of the 13 teams currently below .500, 8 are in the NL and 5 (!) of those are in the NL Central.

(NL Central in Bold Italic)

1 -- Kansas City (11-29, .275)
2 -- Colorado (11-26, .297)
3 -- Tampa Bay (14-27, .341)
4 -- Cincinnati (14-26, .350)
5 -- Houston (15-24, .385)
6 -- Seattle (16-24, .400)
6 -- Oakland (16-24, .400)
8 -- Cleveland (17-22, .436)
9 -- Philadelphia (18-23, .439)
10-- Pittsburgh (17-21, .447)
11-- Chicago Cubs (18-20, .474)
12-- Milwaukee (19-20, .487)
12-- San Francisco (19-20, .487)

Why is this? Well, simply put, the NL Central is kicking the shit out of each other so far this season. With the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals (boooo hisssss -- 16-4 vs. NL Central), every other team is splitting series after series more or less, and while this is true for most other divisions as well, the NLC is noticeably more extreme in this parity. Except for the poor poor Reds, that is.

(NL Central Record, Record vs. Everyone Else)
1 -- St. Louis (16-4, 9-9)
2 -- Milwaukee (13-12, 6-8)
3 -- Cubs (12-11, 6-9)
4 -- Houston (10-11, 5-13)
5 -- Pittsburgh (10-14, 7-7)
6 -- Cincinnati (6-15, 8-11)

Compare this, just as an example, to the AL Central where the teams are fairly evenly spaced about back from the White Sox.

(ALC, Record outside ALC)
1 -- White Sox (18-4, 11-8)
2 -- Minnesota (12-9, 10-8)
3 -- Detroit (10-11, 9-8)
4 -- Cleveland (9-13, 8-9)
5 -- Kansas City (5-17, 6-12)

It will even out eventually as the season goes on, but it definitely explains the early-season discrepancies in having almost every team in one division below .500. I would like to think the NL Central is better than this, and over time it will be.

It is kinda like the NFC last season - so many teams breaking even at .500 or thereabouts over the course of the season, with teams at 7-9 even making the playoffs (compared to the AFC where the playoff teams were head-and-shoulders above the rest, more or less).

Sorry if this was boring to anyone, I just can't wait for the Cubs/White Sox series and I'm killing time.

Comments, thoughts? (On something other than how boring this may have been?)

Swashing the Pirates, Buckling Mesa

ESPN Boxscore - Cubs 3, Pirates 2

Well I never. The Cubs dragged themselves up and out of a batting slump by their bootstraps on Wednesday, taking advantage of a lucky break and bringing their record in 1-run games up to a reasonable 8-9, effectively a 50-50 situation.

You live by the 9th Inning, you die by the 9th Inning in the case of the Pirates, who until Tuesday's 4-3 loss had won something like 40 straight when leading after 8 innings. This was in no small part due to the efforts of their hard-throwing goateed Jose Mesa, whose efficiency had him without a blown save since last August.

On Tuesday, Derrek Lee was the hero with 2 home runs and all 4 Cubs RBIs, but yesterday, with the 8th Inning on the wane, the heros were a different quartet entirely. Their efforts were just what the Cubs needed, and temporarily lifted any discontent from LB and the Cubs' faithful as to their abilities.

His 8th Inning 1-out sacrifice fly to center field gave the Cubs a lifeline, ruining an otherwise excellent afternoon by Pirates' starter Kip Wells (8 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 BB, 6 K). Mike Fontenot, pinch-running for Ben Grieve, scored the run, and the Cubs were back in the hunt at 2-1.

In a difficult 9th Inning spot, pinch-hitting for the ineffective Jason Dubois (0-2, BB, 2 K) with one out and runners on 1st and 2nd, he drilled a 3-2 fastball right at 1B Daryle Ward who couldn't make the play. The ball ricocheted off his glove and body into shallow right field, allowing Barrett to score from 2nd and pushing Patterson (intentionally walked with 1 out and 1st base open.... the right move in that situation?) to third.

The next batter up in the 9th, starting due to Aramis' ongoing back problems, hit a 1-0 pitch high to deep right field, allowing Corey to score on the sacrifice fly. Cubs 3, Pirates 2. Ramirez would then pinch-hit for LaTroy Hawkins, striking out swinging to end the inning.

The new closer, he struggled early, allowing a lead-off double from PH Tike Redman and walking another PH Rob Mackowiak. Barrett left the game and Blanco came in to catch. The next batter, Sanchez, bunted to Dempster who got the force-out at third.

The next man up, Matt Lawton, hit the first pitch straight to JHJ in the 2B hole. It bounced awkwardly and Hairston, dreaming of making the game-ending double play, bobbled, and all runners were on-base safely. No play.

1 out, bases loaded, and Pittsburgh's best hitter on the day, SS Jack Wilson (3-3, R), wasted no time, grounding sharply to Neifi who was able to turn the game-winning double play, short-to-second-to-first, and Dempster got his 2nd save of the short week.

4 of the game's runs came from sacrifice flies, 2 for either team, and the Cubs scuttle home to prepare for a weekend intra-league series with their city rivals, the White Sox.

The Sox are on a tear so far this season, 29-12 and 12-5 in May so far. It will be a challenge but one that the Cubs always seem to be ready for - in 42 meetings between the two teams since 1997, the series split is 22-20 in favour of the White Sox.

1997: White Sox, 2-1
1998: Cubs, 3-0
1999: White Sox, 4-2
2000: Tied, 3-3
2001: White Sox, 4-2
2002: Tied, 3-3
2003: White Sox, 4-2
2004: Cubs 4-2

Zambrano will miss his start on Friday afternoon due to tennis elbow in his throwing arm, but (and I love it when the 'but' precedes good news) after a solid bullpen throwing session during yesterday's game, he will move back only one day in the rotation to participate perhaps the most winnable game for the Cubs, facing the 1-1 Jose Contreras in the afternoon sun.

It might be a bit much to expect blown saves from the Southsiders this weekend given their "bullpen by situation" stance, with anyone from Dustin Hermanson (9 SV, 0 ER in 19 1/3 IP), Shingo Takatsu (8 SV, 5,56 ERA) or Damaso Marte (2 SV, 2.25 ERA -- gave up the GW walk to Todd Walker on July 4 last year, their last meeting)

Pitching Matchups for the Weekend
CWS: LHP Freddy Garcia • 3-3, 4.02 ERA in 2005 • Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 2-1, 4.15 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 8.68 ERA in 2004 vs. CWS

CWS: RHP Jose Contreras • 1-1, 3.52 ERA in 2005• Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 3-2, 4.09 ERA in 2005• 1-1, 3.65 ERA in 2004 vs. CWS

CWS: RHP Orlando Hernandez • 5-1, 3.91 ERA in 2005• Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 3-1, 2.93 ERA in 2005• 1-0, 1.80 ERA in 2004 vs. CWS

Wednesday, May 18

Late-Game Thoughts

Much has been made lately (well, all season really) of the maligned Cubs bullpen and its struggles. While this is true, I thought it interesting while browsing the ESPN GameCast to look at our bullpen real quick statistically. Closing games has been a huge problem, as the scrambles for a new closer have proven, but in reality, we're not doing that badly. (Or are we?)


The Good/Steady
Will Ohman -- 2-0, 0.00 ERA//10 APP, 6 2/3 IP, BAA .217

Cliff Bartosh -- 0-2, 2.13 ERA//10 APP, 12 2/3 IP, BAA .209

Todd Wellemeyer -- 0-0, SV, 2.00 ERA//7 APP, 9 IP, BAA .212

Michael Wuertz -- 1-1, 3.72 ERA//20 APP, 19 1/3 IP, BAA .203

The Bad/Improving
Mike Remlinger -- 0-1, 4.63 ERA//15 APP, 11 2/3 IP, BAA .205

LaTroy Hawkins -- 1-4, 4 SV, 3.52 ERA//17 APP, 15 1/3 IP, BAA .241

*Ryan Dempster -- 2-3, SV, 5.50 ERA//9 APP, 37 2/3 IP, BAA .291

The Ugly/Needs to Improve
Chad Fox -- 0-0, SV, 6.75 ERA//11 APP, 8 IP, BAA .276 --- On the DL

* includes stats as starter, so not entirely indicative of bullpen performance

From looking at it in this respect, it isn't as grave as with some other teams and their bullpens (Pittsburgh, KC, Colorado, Cincinnati, Seattle, Texas, San Francisco... the list is lengthy), and despite the number of losses in there (having mentioned the Cubs are 7-9 in 1-run games this season... 16 of 37 games decided by 1 run!), these "blowups" have not been as catastrophic as, say Danny Graves blowing two huge Reds leads in the 9th Inning, or even Octavio Dotel's recent woes vs. the Red Sox.

I'm definitely feeling better about our relief pitching upon looking at all of this. It says a lot that our bullpen has collectively lost 6 or 7 games, and yet their ERAs are so mid-range/below 4.00..... says as much about a lack of offense in these close games (like right now - 2-1 in the 8th inning) as it does about the bullpen's inability to keep the Cubs in the game.

I would apportion a fair bit of blame on the shoulders of Hollandsworth, Barrett, Patterson, Macias, Dubois, Blanco etc etc as I would on Hawkins -- granted he is there to "close" the game out when we're ahead, but scoring 2 or 3 runs in an entire game would trouble even the game's best 9th Inning pitchers, right?

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Derrek Lee must be reading LB

ESPN Boxscore

In what must be the 7th or 8th freak occurrence surrounding the Cubs this season, just days after LB comes out and questions Lee's recent form, he responds in kind, clubbing 2 HRs including the game-winning, come-from-behind 2-run HR in the 9th inning. Jose Mesa, a powerful closer who hadn't blown a save in over a year, decided to pitch to him with 1st base open, and after trying to muscle him with a fastball inside, Lee picked it up and sent it soaring into deep left-center field.

It was amazing, considering the relative frustration the Cubs had endured up to that point - despite out-hitting the Pirates 13-7, they trailed 3-2, leaving 10 men on base and 4 runners in scoring position with 2 outs.

In the 9th, after a Jerry Hairston Jr. double (2-5, 2 R), Lee came to the plate and the rest is history.

We can't win like this all the time - as TheHawk and I talked after the game, he made a good point: the Cubs need to start winning by playing solid games from start to finish, as we can't rely on these come-from-behind, last-gasp wins in the dying innings.

I'll take it for now, however, as it brings the Cubs to 17-20 and tied for 3rd with Pittsburgh in the NL Central. It isn't as bad as it sounds - the Phillies beat the Cardinals again last night 7-5, leading the season series 3-1 and outscoring them 35-19 throughout (we should be studying those tapes! Or trade for Bobby Abreu...)

Small fact before I depart:
The Cubs are currently 7-9 in 1-run games so far this season.

Tuesday, May 17

Zambrano - Pitching Ace, Tennis Amateur

Well, according to ESPN.com, Zambrano might well miss his next scheduled start on Friday night vs. the White Sox due to ...... wait for it ...... tennis elbow. Or at least that's what his weird forearm strains are consistent with, symptomatically.

He will throw on the side on Wednesday while the team swashbuckles with the Pirates, but the possibilities of him starting vs. Guillen's Goons are up in the air. 50-50. Too close to call. Anyone's guess. On the line. On the fence. Who can say? Wait and see.

"It feels like I have concrete in my arm; it feels heavy."
Zambrano, on how his right arm feels

His possible injury brings an amazing and mind-boggling list of injuries and the injured to mind.

Nomar, Todd Walker, Fox, Williamson, Kerry Wood.... I could go on from there

the good news? Borowski is almost back, as it TW, and Prior is pitching tonight.

CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 3-1, 2.77 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 4.09 ERA in 2004 vs. PIT
PIT: RHP Josh Fogg • 3-2, 3.96 ERA in 2005 • 1-2, 6.98 ERA in 2004 vs. CHC

Look for Barrett getting the possible nod over Blanco (Prior's normal catcher), as he's 8-12 lifetime (2 HRs) against the Fogg-man.

Monday, May 16

Interesting article...

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/gammons/story?id=2061052 - ESPN.com

If you read the whole thing, Peter Gammons makes the Cubs sound like they are in the best position of any of the teams he talks about in this article. Granted it is an article on the biggest disappointments of the year so far, but still, I think there is good reason for some optimism on the horizon if some of these injured Cubs start making a bounce back. Afterall, as Gammons points out, the Cubs are only 5 games away from the NL wild card spot and the season isn't quite a quarter of the way through.

Derrek Lee --- error-free, but offensive mystery

Like the other members of LB, I'm not one to worry unnecessarily or jump on things too quickly (or at least I try not to), but I am like the rest of LB in that I lie occasionally, especially about whether or not I worry unnecessarily.

Derrek Lee, unlike the Menace of April, has been a Phantom Menace of late (couldn't resist, what with the new one on the horizon), managing 4 hits in his last 24 at-bats and watching his average plummet from the dizzying heights of .410-ish to .353 in the last week or so. Batting .167, he's managed 9 strikeouts (28 all season) and one RBI -- the unbelievably important extra-innings HR off Heath Bell and the Mets (sounds like a 50s soul group... Heath Bell and the Mets) to clinch that series.

How D-Lee might be feeling of late.

It is probably just the laws of gravity and averages and other science stuff -- what goes up must come down, everything will even out, good with the bad etc etc -- but given all the recent mistakes and miscues and minor injuries and muscle strains, we need that superhuman batting 3 to keep things ticking along.

Let's just see what happens.

Gypsies, Nationals and Thieves (while we're on the theme of stealing)

No sooner than the Cubs kick off a 3-game winning streak does it end and get replaced with a 2-game losing, a small thread of errors, missed opportunities and ominous maybe-injuries.

Washington chose the weapon of the Cubs' destruction, and in these two 1-run losses (bringing the season total to ), errors decided our fate.

On Saturday, a single by 3B Vinny Castilla with 1 out and the bases loaded turned into 2 runs after Dubois' throwing error. After the whoops, both base runners on 2nd and 3rd would eventually come home on RBI singles off an arm-strained Zambrano (more on him later).

Not even RBIs from Jose Macias could revive the Cubs from that 4-1 hole in the 4th Inning, and the Cubs sank 4-3.

On Sunday, Neifi Perez took the bad-play spotlight, swallowing a routine ground-ball and guffing it, sending it trickling into center field and letting what would be the game-winning run score from 2nd base in the 6th Inning. As if that wasn't enough, an infield single to a fumbling Neifi in the 3rd seemed harmless enough, but instead of being the 3rd out, it led to an RBI single from the next man up, Cub Slayer Jose Guillen.

The Cubs get a rest day in Time Out to spend thinking about what they've done recently, and will no doubt be cautious with an ominous week ahead -

Tuesday and Wednesday -- they visit the Pirates (7-3 in their last 10, although a terrible 5-10 at home)
Friday-Sunday -- at home to the best team in baseball, the Chicago White Sox


So, Zambrano, how's the arm? He left on Saturday after 3 1/3 innings (65 pitches) with an apparent injury to his forearm. According to ESPN, he will have it examined in more detail today and is considered questionable for his next start -- fingers crossed, and LB will play messenger as soon as we find out.

Saturday, May 14

Burnitz the thief

Cubs 6, Nationals 3

3 in a row!

The Cubs are evidently gaining some confidence (well, not everyone on the staff), because when the game was on the line, it was the Nationals who blinked first.

With the score knotted at 2-2 in the 8th Inning, and the impressive Loaiza out of the game (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER), Aramis drove a 2-2 pitch into deep center field for a solo HR. Burnitz followed with a 2-0 double to deep left center, and Barrett sacrificed to move him across to third. Jason Dubois fouled off 2 pitches with a full count before being hit by a pitch, leaving runners on the corners, 1 out. Chad Cordero came into the game in relief, a guy who has not exactly been easy to hit this season - 4 ER in 16 IP, striking out 17 while walking 6.

Jerry Hairston Jr, a man with 1 RBI this season, was instructed to lay down the suicide squeeze, but after missing the ball, Burnitz was caught in a run-down between third and home. Or was he? A crucial error by the catcher in handling the ball allowed Burnitz to score safely.

Jerry then walked, leaving runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out.

Hollandworth came in to pinch-hit, and in true Todd form, with the pressure on, he struck out swinging on 4 pitches. Excellent work, Holls, excellent work.

With 2 out, and Cordero appearing more comfortable, he worked Patterson to a 2-2 count. Corey connected weakly with the next pitch, the ball trickling down the 1st base line, and Cordero covered across to make the play. He scooped the ball cleanly but missed on the transfer, the ball flying over the 1B's hands into right field. Corey was safe, and both Dube and Hairy coming round to score. Perez grounded out, but the damage was done.

4 runs off 3 hits, with 3 runs coming off the 2 costly errors by C Gary Bennett and Cordero.

So the game was done.

Or so we would have liked. Remlinger, the man chosen to relieve Wuertz (threw a perfect 8th Inning, 2 fly-outs, strike-out), induced Nick Johnson to fly out to CF. Working a 1-2 count on Bennett, he served up a fat pitch that was dispatched to deep right for a double. Guzman popped out, leaving a runner on 2nd with 2 outs.

The pinch-hitted Blanco drilled a run-scoring double, and Remlinger walked Wilkerson on 6 pitches and Jamey Carroll after an 11-pitch at-bat. The next man up, Jose Guillen.

Remlinger left the game with the bases loaded, and Wellemeyer came into to finish things off. He sent Guillen to a full-count, before Jose connected, sending the 3-2 pitch deep down the right field line, where Burnitz made the catch in the corner, a few feet from the fence. 6 feet more, a split-second earlier on the hit, and he would have ended the game with a walk-off grand slam.

But it was not to be, and for once the Cubs came out on top of an eventful and nervy performance filled with 3 Washington errors and a 3-run win for Chicago.

Having been on the receiving end of bad luck like this, it is definitely satisfying to see us on the winning side of such events. A 3-game winning streak, and Zambrano vs. Hernandez this evening.

Thursday, May 12

The Closer Carousel loses another rider

Ryan Dempster!!

In a move that would make over-protective mothers everywhere reach for neosporin and an extra sweater for their wimpy child, Dempster took a line-drive off his elbow in the 10th Inning yesterday, foiling Mike Piazza of a possible base-hit and foiling himself in avoiding a trip to the hospital. X-rays show no significant damage, given that the ball racketed off "the fleshy part of the forearm below the elbow", according to the confusing medical jargon employed by doctors.

(what Dempster's bruise may or may not look by. Artist's rendering)

He has a deep bruise, and means the closer's throne is now open again.

So who will it be this time?

Dusty might well look to Michael Wuertz - I mean, why the heck not - on two days rest to be the closer on Friday night if one is needed. The job will then fall to Remlinger, and then possibly Underdog. Have no fear, Underdog is here.

Joe Borowski is on the mend, as we all know and as LB is praying for his return, GM Hendry predicts a slow return to the major-league club. Bo's minor-league outings haven't been mind-blowing (something we need from him considering the Cubs bullpen has blown 5 saves in 10 chances, 4 of those on home soil), allowing 4 runs (2 earned) and 3 hits in 5 innings pitched.

The ever-insightful and expressive Dusty Baker had this to say about Big Joe:
''He had two great outings down there in Triple-A, then he had a not-very-good outing [Tuesday], which is what happens in spring training, too,'' manager Dusty Baker said of Borowski allowing three runs (one earned), two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning Tuesday. ''He's still in spring training. I know Joe is itching to come here, but I would rather have Joe, hopefully, over-ready than under-ready.''

So yeah, let's see what happens. The Cubs have a weekend series in Washington to play the Expotials from Friday through Sunday, and by then, we might have more answers. Series predictions coming tomorrow morning.

Pitching Matchups for the Series:

CHC: LHP Glendon Rusch • 2-1, 2.70 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 2004 vs. MON/WSH
WAS: RHP Esteban Loaiza • 1-2, 3.69 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 6.00 ERA in 2004 vs. CHC

CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 3-1, 3.61 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 1.13 ERA in 2004 vs. MON/WSH
WAS: RHP Livan Hernandez • 5-2, 4.02 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 0.00 ERA in 2004 vs. CHC

CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 2-1, 3.80 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 1.23 ERA in 2004 vs. MON/WSH
WAS: RHP John Patterson • 2-1, 2.45 ERA in 2005 • Did not pitch in 2004 vs. CHC

Wednesday, May 11

Cubs win! Cubs win!

I think they took this picture of Bell right before he went out to pitch in the bottom of the ninth today...

"Oh God, I just know I'm going to give up the winning hit against the Cubs today, I just know it!!!"

Go Derrek Lee, in the at-bat of the year... fouling off 5 straight pitches with a full count, just waiting for the pitch he wanted! That is how major league hitting is done!

Cubs Headlines - Quality Toilet reading (if you can fit yr computer in the bathroom)

Cubs Notes: What's eating LaTroy Hawkins? (Cubs.com)

Thillens is going to be alright, with the Cubs picking up the save (Sun-Times)

Dempster wants patience (Sun-Times)

Dusty likes platooning his LF (Sun-Times)

Cubs put the Mets to bed

Greg Maddux has landed.

He made short work of a whiff-happy Mets lineup, notching 10 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of work. While he was tossing change-ups and sliders past the bats, Patterson painted a couple of solo HRs into the stands, and Jason Dubois, the mystery man-behind-the-Hollandsworth on the bench, added a 2-out Solo HR of his own. Not to be outdone, Burny put one into a moonlit Queens, adding to a couple of excellent defensive plays in RF. Jim, wherever you are right now, you were right - Burnitz is the second coming, getting better every day. Remlinger struck out 2 in an inning of work, and Michael Wuertz got some steady-arm action, throwing a hit-less 1 1/3 (1 walk) in additional relief.

High-paid Injury Man Kris Benson took the loss, giving up 6 ER in 6 Innings on 10 hits, but I have a feeling he'll be ok, especially when you consider who he gets to go home to:

Anna Benson

Something tells me Kris will be quite alright.

So yes, good performance all-round from the Cubbies. The offense clicked a little bit, our pitchers scattered 3 hits in 9 innings, and we got a couple of 2-out RBIs, and those are always sweet.

Good stuff, keep them coming, rubber match is today at 2.20 ET.

Pitching Matchup:
NYM: RHP Victor Zambrano • 2-3, 5.63 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 1.29 ERA in 2003 vs. CHC
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 3-1, 3.09 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 2004 vs. NYM

I'm happy as Time Warner in NYC finally settled with Cablevision, which translates to MSG being back on digital cable, which means every Mets game is now available, which means I can watch this afternoon while doing work. I like this matchup, although the NY Zambrano is very much like ours - inspired one game, chaotic the next. This might not be as clear-cut as I would hope, but I think the Cubs can ride Mark to a series win this afternoon.

In the meantime, let's try and keep the previous discussion going. There are tons of places the Cubs could upgrade and shuffle - I just read that Leicester is back down, and Sergio Mitre is on the way up - and I'm curious to see just how much we can do to improve our beloved team.

Headlines coming up shortly.

Tuesday, May 10


Dusty Baker has been quite the mad scientist of late, employing all sorts of alchemy and hoodoo instincts upon the roster. The nature of his alterations has been largely misunderstood, prompting LB and many regular readers to wonder just what makes Dusty tick the way he does.

We've seen starting pitchers with improving confidence moved into the hottest closer seat in town (something obviously not relished as he gave up 2 runs in last night's 9th inning appearance), we've seen steady bullpen influences fly into the rotation, and relievers of great potential shoved aside for, well, Jon Less-ster.

Based on our collective knowledge, LB included, what changes do you think Dusty SHOULD be making?

Starting Lineup shuffles -- who should play where in the order?
Fielding moves -- any upgrades on the spacious Cubs bench?
Starting rotation -- who should play Kerry Wood for the next 3-6 weeks?
Bullpen -- who deserves that hot hot throne as closer?
Minor Leagues -- anyone we should be calling up but haven't? Anyone we should be sending packing but won't?
Trading -- who do you think should be shipped in/shipped out?

Let us know -- the more offbeat, the better -- and let's discuss this at great length. At the end of our great debates, perhaps we can send Hellfire Hendry a letter, carrier pigeon or strip-o-gram to let him know what the fans think.

Monday, May 9

Best Uniforms in Baseball

The best and worst uniforms in baseball

"The Cub home uniform is not as good as the Yankee home uniform, but it's pretty darn close. If aliens landed and their first question was, "What is this baseball you speak of?" It'd be awfully nice if WGN is showing a Cubs home game right then, because you could flip to it, and they'd get to see one of the top two baseball uniforms ever.

The Cubs' home threads have barely ever changed at all, and it should absolutely stay that way. And their home hat shows everyone that it doesn't have to be a black hat (or even dark blue) to be cool. I don't care for the red bill on the away hats."

If Dempster is the closer, then who is starting tonight?

Hold onto your butts... With the decision to move Ryan Dempster out of the starting pitching rotation so that he can close out our close ballgames, there is an open spot in the rotation. Dempster was slated to start tonight, so the pitcher taking Dempster's slot is starting the game tonight against the Mets. I already know who it is, but have you heard yet??? (I'm trying (and probably failing) to build some suspense here!) Yeah, I pulled the parentheses-within-parentheses move, so what? Maybe I spent too much time programming in high school when you all were chasing girls and boozing in your parents' cars. Anyway, the Cubs recalled Jon "Suck" Leicester from the minor leagues today in order to start in place of Dempster. Any thoughts? Click that little comment button and let me know if you're as happy about this decision as I am!

Here is my source for that info... Yahoo Fantasy Sports

P.S. Joe Borowski, we miss you more than ever!

P.P.S. That thing in American Pie where he... ya know... with the Apple Pie? Definitely not a good idea, I wrote a simulation in 10th grade, and at least 82 out of 100 times the subject got warm apple filling in his pee-hole.

Hawkins officially loses closing job.

ESPN Box Score - Yesterday's game, Cubs 2, Phillies 1

Apparently this is a little old (more than 24 hours). For those of you who didn't notice, the Cubs won their first game in over a week yesterday, beating the Phillies 2-1 on a Complete Game pitched by Zambrano. Had the club needed help from another pitcher, however, the man would have been Ryan Dempster. Here is an excerpt from ESPN.com's page for the Cubs:

Ryan Dempster Named Closer
May 9
After Latroy Hawkins blew another save, Dusty Baker has finally named the new closer, Ryan Dempster. Hawkins will revert back to the set-up role and Dempster will be the full-time closer even if Joe Borowski returns to full health. The Cubs have assured Dempster, it is his job to lose. When Borowski does return in a week or so, expect him to work the 7th and 8th innings. However, Borowski should get his chance soon enough because I don't think anyone expects Dempster to be perfect. "

Interesting stuff... and go Cubbies in snapping the 7-game losing streak!!!

Today on LB

- New Player of the Week
- Reviewed: Saturday, Sunday vs. Phillies
- Headlines

Saturday, May 7

Hawkins - living the nightmare

LaTroy, LaTroy, LaTroy... what happened to you?

This was yet another dour game to witness, watching the Cubs do little with the bat against Corey Lidle for 7 innings, then the team waited for Derrek Lee to be the clubhouse saviour again, slamming a pitch from Wagner over the wall for the go-ahead, 2-run Home Run. Not bad considering Wagner had not allowed a run in his previous 11 innings of work so far this season.

From there, it seemed rather apparent. Hawkins, would come in to finish the job in the 9th. This, however, was not to be, and Hawkins' already bad week would continue yesterday afternoon.

The inning began as I expected it would. Burrell got a single after being behind in the count. He was pulled for a pinch-runner, as the Phillies clearly respected Hawkins (for some reason) and figured they'd need to be bunting and stealing in true small-ball style in order to tie the game. However, they were wrong. Hawkins did the work for them, failing to field a ground ball in his domain, and all runners are safe. LT did strike out the rookie Howard, as I would have expected, leaving runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out. Still a good situation for the Cubs: an infield ground-ball, and you have a double play. However, Hawkins had a different strategy - get ahead of PH Jose Offerman (.143, o RBI this season) 0-2 in the count, and then throw 4 straight balls to load the bases.

Placido Polanco pinch hits, and he is a dangerous batter to face regardless of the inning or the situation. LT takes the count to 1-2, before Polanco hits a line-drive right into Hawkins' glove. An amazing play, showing great reflexes. All the runners are holding, except Old Shoes Offerman, who has creeped a couple of feet further from 1st than anyone else from any other base. Hawkins, demonstrating the point where reflexes and instincts are replaced with conscious thought and subsequent stupidity, tries to be a hero and throws to first. The throw is wide, the throw makes it into the stands off Offerman's helmet (an unlikely hero, to say the least, a helmet), and two runs amble home. 3-2 Phillies. The inning then ends rather quickly, with the pitcher Billy Wagner striking out.

What had Hawkins failed to think about? If you hold that line drive, leaving 2 outs and bases loaded, the pitcher was up to the plate next. Holding the ball would have possibly forced the Phillies to pinch-hit for their almost indestructible closer, meaning the Cubs could face a much weaker reliever in the bottom of the 9th (Worrell, a good option, just packed off to the DL for "psychological reasons") instead of Bullet-Proof Billy. If they leave Wagner in, a career .105 hitter (2-19 lifetime, with 11 Ks), Hawkins has a much easier job at hand. Strike him out, and go to the 9th with a chance to rally or at least force extra-innings. Instead, he tosses the ball at Offerman's head, leaving Derrek "Jesus" Lee no chance of making the play, and the Cubs lose again, going winless in 8 days.

I will say no more. Rusch vs. Lieber this afternoon.

Thursday, May 5

Hawkins (not Hawk) pisses me off...

Hawkins gave up the winning run in yet another one run loss for the Cubs. The Cubs entered the 9th tied at 5 apiece with the so-called "red-hot" Brewers (today was their 7th straight win). I've sort of been defending Hawkins all year, and I still think he's a great setup guy, but after this one, he officially pisses me off. The Cubs even tied it in the top of the 9th! Oh well... not too much time to post today, so that will the only thing I point out. Oh, and that winning run for the Brewers? Yeah, it was a two-out single to end the game. That pesky, pesky third out......

Here's to tomorrow!

4-6-05 - Update: Here is a comment that Jim made, which I feel obligated to include in this post, as I may have been a little tough on Hawkins: "Hairston should have caught the ball. He was there. He had a great jump on it. You can't blame Hawkins for that one. "
Sorry y'all... we don't get them ball games on the tele' out here in the backwoods of central PA!

Last Night Made Me Cry (well…almost)

This is going to be short because I see no need (and lack the desire) to look hard at this game. It was close the entire time but never should have been. There should not have been lead changes or nail biting moments. The Cubs literally beat themselves in this one. I’d rather forget it and move on. Also, I didn’t follow this one all that closely. I periodically checked the score via cubs.com’s gameday. Here’s a recap of what I saw when I checked in:

4th inning: Dempster wild pitch brings in the Brewers’ first run to tie the game. Depressing way to tie the game.

6th: Cubs go up 2-1 on a Burnitz single. There’s Burnitz again, let’s hope he stays hot.

7th: Brewers take the lead with a two run shot. Damnit.

9th: This is where it got bad. Novoa intentionally walks the bases loaded only to walk in the winning run. I couldn’t believe what I just saw.

If you asked me to think of the worst way to lose a game, I would point to last night. Half of the Brewers’ runs were GIVEN to them by the Cubs. About the only positive I can think of in this whole debacle is that the Cubs’ performances tend to swing from very impressive to down right depressing and vice versa. Let’s hope that today we see a Maddux who goes 7 or 8, some hot bats and no errors from anyone on the Cubs.

Wednesday, May 4

5-4-05 -- Thoughts from JT - Cubs 1, Brewers 4

ESPN Boxscore

What a depressing, depressing game. I think the Cubs enjoy keeping its fans in suspense, because with performances like this, we're never sure whether to cheer or cry.

After a bright and breezy start - Hairston Jr. being thrown out trying to steal third in a horrible move, and various easy innings for the pitchers - Blanco sent a pitch out of the park in the 3rd for a 1-0 lead. That margin would last until the 6th Inning, when the Brewers scored 3 runs on a sac fly and two RBI doubles for Carlos Lee and Damian Miller respectively. Zambrano left soon after, and Novoa gave up another RBI double in the 8th to provide the final score.

++ Jeromy Burnitz + Henri Blanco - defending the Cubs' honour
Burny provided the Cubs with two of the more memorable plays of the evening, throwing out 2 runners at home plate - Bill Hall in the 4th, Lyle Overbay in the 6th - and trying to keep the awful Cubs offense in the game.

Not only did Blanco score the Cubs' only run with a solo HR - only his 2nd hit of the season (2-20, .100) - but he caught Brady Clark stealing second.

These two provided some of the only bright moments in the game from our perspective.

-- Batting/Baserunning
6 hits in the game overall. Only three runners advanced past first in the entire game (Hairston Jr, in the 1st, Blanco and Zambrano in the 3rd). Only one man made it on base after the 3rd Inning (Derrek Lee single in the 6th). The last 3 Innings of the game were 1-2-3 innings.

Performances like that as a team are awful, enough said.

I can't write about this anymore without being too negative. It is enough to say that it was a horrible performance, and we can only hope their bats are not so silent from hereon out.

Let's see a better performance tonight - Dempster vs. Santos.

Tuesday, May 3

Preview: Cubs vs. Brewers -- Showdown in Brewtown

The Brewers come into the game, like the Cubs, after a rest day. That is where the similarity ends, however, as Milwaukee is also fresh from a weekend sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. They scored 23 runs over those 3 games, giving up 11, and some of their hitters have been getting hot over the past week, notably:

1B Lyle Overbay 9-11 (.818 BA), 2 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI
SS Bill Hall 7-20 (.350 BA), 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI

The Cubs obviously have plenty of offensive weapons of their own, ones we've talked about at great length, so the promise is there for a great series. Lee, Perez, and Burnitz are all batting well, and Chicago's cause is helped somewhat by the injury to Brewers ace Ben Sheets, who may have been scheduled to make a start during these 3 games.

Key Series Players

P Carlos Zambrano - it would be nice to see Zam-bravo pick up the win tonight after some rough games in Houston. This season he pitched 7 scoreless innings in a 4-0 win against the Brewers, and over the last 3 years, CZ is 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA vs. Milwaukee. Numbers like these make me think he should triumph tonight against a largely uninspiring lineup, and against a young pitcher like Capuano.
1B Derrek Lee - this one goes without saying. The man is having the season to envy right now, breaking Cubs records for April RBIs. His batting eye is consistent, his swing is powerful; no reason not to consider him a threat against any team he faces.
RF Jeromy Burnitz - Burny was a nominee in the running for NL Player of the Week last week, an award his teammate D-Lee claimed for himself. His bat is on fire lately, and he is proving once-doubters like myself to be wrong, owning his position. Last week he went 8-19 (.421 BA), with 2 2B, 2 HR and 5 RBI, 2 of this RBIs coming in the 3-2 Friday night win over Roger Clemens and the Astros. He is becoming the man the Cubs need him to be, so look for his bat and ever-improving defense to come up big in Milwaukee-town.

1B Lyle Overbay - he is the Derrek Lee of Milwaukee. So many hopes for the Brewers' success ride on his broad shoulders, and he's beginning to heat up (stats above show last week//For the season: .355 BA, 5 HR, 16 RBI, OBP .484, SLG .645). He needs to pick up the slack for strugglers like Carlos Lee and Russell Branyan if the Beermen are to have any luck this season.
P Victor Santos - with injury to Ben Sheets, the rest of the rotation needs to pick it up, and guys like Santos are the key. Over the last 3 years, the Cubs have been one of his preferred customers, going 3-2 in 8 starts with a 2.64 ERA and limiting the bats to a .217 BA. Stats like these are meant to be broken, but in scraps like this against division rivals, it's important to ride the wave and prove that they're far from fictional.
C Damian Miller - He's a veteran of MLB, and has had success against Maddux in the past - 7-17 (.412 BA), 6 RBI lifetime - and the Brewers need their more experienced players to pick it up and pull the team along while their ace pitcher gets healthy. He's batting .316 over the past week (6-19), .313 for the season, and his place in the lineup can cause problems for any pitcher on any day.

Series Starters

MIL: LHP Chris Capuano • 1-2, 4.76 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 5.06 ERA in 2005 vs. CHC
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 2-0, 4.31 ERA in 2005 • 1-0, 0.00 ERA in 2005 vs. MIL

MIL: LHP Victor Santos • 1-1, 3.25 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 3.60 ERA in 2005 vs. CHC
CHC: RHP Ryan Dempster • 1-3, 5.67 ERA in 2005 • Has not faced MIL in 2005

MIL: RHP John Glover • 2-1, 5.16 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 2005 vs. CHC
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 1-1, 4.20 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 5.40 ERA in 2005 vs. MIL

LB Predicts

The Cubs did take 2 of 3 from the Brewers in the 1st week of the season, leading LB to believe that a similar outcome is on the cards. Sure, the Cubs bullpen is struggling, but considering their potential for serious runs at any given moment, one might think this can tip our way.

Stunned - Kerry Wood joining the DL Party

The Chicago Cubs DL: The Wrigley Field Wreckage (in order of breakdown)
RP Scott Williamson -- 60-day DL, rehab from Tommy John surgery
RP Joe Borowski -- 15-day DL, fractured ulnar
2B Todd Walker -- 15-day DL, left knee sprain
SS Nomar Garciaparra -- 15-day DL, left groin injury
RP Chad Fox -- 15-day DL, right elbow injury
SP Kerry Wood -- 15-day DL, shoulder muscle sprain

As I write this, it is just after midnight on May 3rd. We have officially completed one month of the 2005 baseball regular season. Over this 4 week span, 4 important players have joined an already crowded Disabled List, and Kerry Wood is the latest looking at some down time.

MRI results taken after prematurely leaving his start on Saturday vs. Houston have shown him to have strained his supraspinatus muscle in the shoulder, a muscle that is essential in throwing and, well, pitching. This is his 2nd MRI visit of the season, having experienced bursitis in that same shoulder, bursitis that inspired the name of this very site. More relevant now than ever, Kerry is no longer throwing and will most likely not pitch again at any kind of competitive level for at least 6 weeks.

Wood's record for the year is 1-1, 6.35 ERA in 5 starts. In 26 1/3 Innings, he has surrendered 18 runs on 28 hits and 14 walks. He also struck out 33.

So what does all of this mean? It means the Cubs have yet another obstacle to overcome in the race for 2nd. As if things could not get worse, the best weapon in the bullpen, Glendon Rusch, will most likely be moved up to make the starts that Wood will spend suntanning, and someone amazing like Jon Leicester or Todd Wellemeyer will be called up, because apparently Dusty loves mediocrity. It has also been speculated that the Cubs will go with a 4-man rotation of Prior, Maddux, Zambrano and Rusch, with Dempster moving into the bullpen and possibly assuming the closer role.

There is also talk of moving Jose Macias into a dual pinch-hitting/2B/3B duty along with several appearances in short, late-inning relief. I think the theory is that he must be able to throw a ball, because he sure as shit can't hit one.

Monday, May 2

Weekend Wear and Tear -- Cubs lose 2 of 3 in Texas

4-29-05 -- Cubs 3, Astros 2
4-30-05 -- Cubs 5, Astros 7
5-1-05 -- Cubs 3, Astros 9

As is the up-and-down nature of the Cubs' fortunes, this series consisted of 3 games decided in single moments, moments that did not always go Chicago's way.

The Cubs won game 1 on the strength of their pitching, both from Maddux and the bullpen, and their ability to take advantage of a bad pitch (Burnitz's solo HR brought Clemens the loss).

Game 2 was defined by Kerry Wood - his shoulder troubles allowed the Astros to jump out to a 3-0 lead before the Cubs could even blink. In addition to pitching troubles, their bullpen having looked so good the day before (Game 1: 3 IP, 0 H, 3 BB, 4 K//Game 2: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K), Cubs' bats were ineffective at best - Innings 5-7 were 1-2-3 innings for Astros pitchers, with all 9 batters retired with ease, 5 striking out, 3 fly outs and a groundout.

Game 3 saw Prior make 2 bad pitches - 1 relinquishing a grand slam to 1B Mike Lamb, the next giving SS Adam Everett a 3-run HR in the same Inning. All 7 Astros runs came with 2 outs, and thus spelled the end to Mark's outing and giving him his first loss on the season.

The Cubs will get better, but they definitely showed their Jekyll and Hyde persona this weekend, making short work of a struggling Astros lineup on Friday night and then allowing 16 runs in 16 Innings over the next two games. When you look at the Cardinals opening up a 3 1/2 game cushion after only 24 games, missed opportunities like these against a slow-starting NL Central rival in Houston can become costly in the long run.

Coming up Today on LB

Recap: Cubs vs. Astros series - Houston has a little Lamb

Preview: Cubs vs. Brewers series - Bear vs. Beer

Summary: The NL Central so far - "the thrilling race for 2nd place"