Northside For Life

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Even when they win they lose

I’ve always considered watching baseball as a form of therapy. No matter what goes on in my life, what kind of stress I may be enduring- and lately there’s been quite a bit of stress- its comforting to know that I can flip to a game on TV and escape reality for a few hours a day or night. Although this is true for all sports, I find baseball to be the most therapeutic. I’m not sure if it’s the pace of the game or what but it just puts me at ease. But for all the therapeutic qualities baseball has, if you watch the Cubs on a regular basis like I do, sometimes they’ll make you feel like getting real therapy.

For instance last night I came home at around 10:30 after a long day at work followed by three and a half hours of graduate level statistics (I’ve felt like Chevy Chase in that classic SNL skit, “Nobody said there would be math involved”). All I wanted to do was get home, crack open a beer and veg out in front of the TV with the Cubs game on. Thank God for these west coast games!

Anyway I pick up the game in the 4th with the score tied 2-2. According to reports of the game, Sean Marshall did pretty good in this start, although his command wasn’t all there so he ran up his pitch count and was gone after 5 innings. They put in David “the Aardvark” Aardsma who apparently hasn’t given up a walk this year in AAA and he promptly issues 3 walks and gives up 2 runs in the inning. Fantastic job, Aardvark. Sit down.

In the middle of the 7th I flipped to ESPN News to catch a few highlights and scores as well as to avoid the unwatchable commercials on Comcast. I flip back to game just in time to see D-Lee rolling around on the ground holding his wrist.

Oh. Shit.

The replay showed him getting bowled over by Raffy Furcal (and you thought Furcal only screwed the Cubs during the offseason) followed by him rolling around in pain. Not a good sight. To make matters worse, Eyre hurt his knee during his belly flop to catch the ball. Two players hurt separately on the same play. When was the last time that happened? Only the Cubs.

At this point I thought the game was a lost cause. Down 2 on the road and with the franchise player out for who knows how long. The Cubs of the past would have folded right here. Instead, they slapped the ball around in the next inning, and with the help of a couple of errors by Dannys Baez and Jason Repko, they scored three runs-all with 2 outs mind you- to take the lead. The bullpen, which has been pretty solid, sealed and the Cubs took it 5-4. It was a pretty encouraging come-from-behind win. The Cubs of the past couple of seasons would have been hard-pressed to win a game like this without hitting two or three homers. That this team is using speed and timely hitting is truly refreshing. But I can’t shake the worry of D-Lee’s injury being serious.

X-rays of his wrist proved inconclusive and reports are saying that he’s flying in to Chicago today for further evaluation. Hopefully it’s just a sprain and he won’t have to miss too much time. The trouble with this type of injury is that it will affect the way he swings the bat for a considerable amount of time after he returns. Even coming back from a mild sprain takes some time. So even in the best case scenario- wrist sprain with no DL time- this injury is probably going to set D-Lee back a few weeks in terms of offensive production. I know a D-Lee recovering from injury is better than some of the options we have right now, but it still sucks nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Renaissance Man

Greg Maddux is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his first three starts.

Let that sink in for a minute.

40-year old Greg Maddux has won his first three starts of the season for the first time in 11 years.

The man is in midseason form already. I don't know if it was the Dog's new offseason workout program or the fact that its a contract year and he's not ready to retire, but Doggy has been pretty amazing to watch. Last night he went 8 strong against the Dodgers, and with the help of the Closing Canuck, closed out L.A. in about 2 hours, enabling the pen to get some rest and me to get a full nights sleep. All in all a good day.

Of course there's talk of Mad Dog pushing 20 wins and being in contention for the Cy Young. What is he, Roger Clemens now? I don't know about all that as I'm sure he'll have his days where he's going to get rocked, but the Dog is on top of his game and looking very much like the Greg Maddux of the mid-'90's. If he keeps this up, he'll definitely crack 15 wins this year for sure. And that my friends, is a very good thing.

Other notes:

-Kerry Wood had an encouraging bullpen session in L.A. yesterday. He's scheduled to pitch a couple of simulated games and then a minor league rehab start sometime in the next couple of weeks. He's set to return to the Cubs sometime in the first two weeks of May. Yeah, kinda vague but that's the Cubs for you.
-Mark Prior also threw a bullpen session yesterday in Arizona. Apparently he's making good progress and should be throwing BP in the next few days. He's set to return sometime in May as well. Maybe.
-Wade Miller is said to be a couple of weeks behind Wood in his rehab, so the end of May might be a good prediction for his return.
-Todd Walker is absolutely killing the ball. And he hasn't bad in the field at all, including some rangy plays he made last night. I don't know what else the man has to do to secure an everyday spot in the lineup.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Questions answered. Sort of.

Right now the Cubs pitching staff consists of a crafty veteran who is aging like fine wine, a talented young hothead who isn’t on top of his game at the moment, and three question marks- two young ones and a journeyman. Those three question marks were the starting pitchers during the Cubs’ three game series with the Pirates. Granted the Pirates are once again terrible and the Cubs seem to have the deed to PNC Park because they own the Pirates there, but these three put in some solid performances.

Marshall was pretty impressive Friday night, giving up 3 in 5 innings before being pulled- an inning or two too early in my opinion- for Michael Wurtz who promptly crapped the bed. Williamson came in and was lights out for the next two innings. Wurtz’ performance was good enough to earn him a bus ticket back to Iowa. I didn’t see much of Marshall’s start save for his final inning of work, but I did listen to first few innings of the game on the car radio and he seemed to be doing quite well. The thing I like most about Sean Marshall is his poise and composure on the mound. He doesn’t carry himself like a rookie and it shows in the way he pitches. A pleasant surprise in the rotation to say the least.

Another pleasant surprise was Jerome Williams’ performance on Saturday. He gave up only 1 ER in 6 innings and kept the walks to a minimum, something that his killed him in the past. A great outing by Williams, who’s standing was kind of iffy after a horrible spring training. Yet another Ronny Cedeno throwing error (great arm, shit for aim) and Freddie Bynum’s loafing around in right allowing for a double to be turned into a triple contributed to both Pirate runs. Zach Duke seemed like the second coming of Sandy Koufax and the Cubs could only plate one run in the loss. It was a bit of a tough one to swallow, but at least it appears as if Jerome will do just fine.

Sunday’s starter was the biggest question mark of all – G Unit Rusch. He’d gotten bombed his last two starts against the Nati, but against the Pirates he was on point, cruising through the first five innings without giving up a run, warning track fly balls, or a ton of walks. He did give up a three run bomb to Craig Wilson but it was still a vast improvement over anything else he’s done so far this year. I figured he’d bounce back against the Pirates, now it remains to be seen if he can continue to deliver solid starts.

Despite their solid performances, I’m not so sure these questions marks have been answered yet. Williams has looked good in relief and in his one start and that’s very encouraging. Marshall is young and doesn’t have a whole lot of experience, but he’s got moxie and good stuff and has been pretty decent in his two starts. I need to see more from him before deciding if he’s legit or if he needs more seasoning in Iowa. But as of right now the future looks bright for Sean. G-Unit, well I’m not to sure about him. A couple more good starts might be needed to keep him in the rotation. Once Wood and Prior come back (God I’m really starting to hate that phrase) only one of these three is going to stick around as a starter. As of right now I’d go with Williams over Rusch and Marshall.

Other notes from the series in the Steel City:

-Todd Walker continues to silence doubters with his bat. The guy has been on fire at the plate and he hasn’t really been bad in the field. Although I don’t really mind the arrangement Dusty has now, with Walker getting most of the starts, I’d have him in there for the vast majority of starts, regardless of who’s pitching. It’s also worth mentioning that the Cubs are 4-0 when Walker’s in the lineup. Go with the hot hand Dusty.

- It’s a shame about Angel Pagan and his knee/hamstring injury. Just when he got his big break, made it to the show, and was starting to make a name for himself on the Cubs. This injury could very well put him out for the year. A damn shame.

-What’s the deal with Pittsburgh fans booing A-Ram and cheering after he got beaned? The guy was traded three years ago. I don’t get it.

- Speaking of A-Ram, he had a nice game yesterday, going 2-4 with a homer and three ribbies. Hopefully he’s starting to get out of his funk.

- And hopefully Lucky Pierre gets out of his as well.

- I’m also hoping we don’t see too much more of Freddie Bynum.

- One of the parks on my short list of parks to visit is PNC. It looks awesome on TV and I’m sure its even better in person. It’s a shame they have such a beautiful park in the Pitt and they have such a shitty team play in it. Oh well, at least they have the Steelers.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mad Dog 320

Things weren’t looking too hot for the Cubs at the start of yesterday’s game. You had Mad Dog pitching against a Red’s team that had gone deep 6 times the day before and has given the Dog fits the last couple of years. On a day when the wind was blowing out to right no less. On top of that, A-Ram and Jaques were both out, replaced by Neifi and Angel Pagan who was batting 5th for some reason. Also in the line-up was Hairy Jerry (in because of the lefty Claussen) batting 2nd and Barrett batting cleanup. A Dusty Special. The game had the makings of a slugfest, and the Cubs looked to be short a couple of guns.

Instead, Mad Dog turned another masterful performance, pretty much shutting down the Reds offense over 6 innings. The Cubs played small ball as the Reds got ready for the upcoming World Cup by booting the ball all over the infield. The ‘Nati made 5 errors in the game –including 3 by 3B Edwin Encarnacion- and Dusty must have stole some notes from Whitey Herzog’s notebook by using the double steal not once, but twice. With the Mad Dog dealin’ and Pierre and D-Lee stealin’ the Cubs took the game 4-1 and Mad Dog earned his 320th career victory.

And that brings us to today. It sounds odd to call a game in April important, but that’s just what this particular game today is. It’s already been said that the Cubs need to get off to a fast start this season to keep pace in the NL Central and so far they’ve been doing just that. The Cubs need to take advantage of their fairly easy early schedule and keep their momentum going until the supposed big guns (Prior, Wood, Miller) return to the fold. So beating the Reds today and taking the series is exactly what the team needs to keep the mo going.

The Cubs have the advantage with Z taking the mound today. He looked great in his last start against the Reds but unfortunately got a no decision. If he could stay on his game today and pitch a good 6 or 7 innings, then the Cubs should be in great shape. The Reds counter with Eric Milton, who’s well on his way to breaking the all-time record for homeruns given up. The Cubs have owned him the past couple of seasons, and with the wind blowing out again today, there could very well be a few dingers coming off Cub bats, even if A-Ram sits out again with his strained ass cheek.

Let’s get ‘em.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bum Rusch

Nothing kills momentum more than staring at a 9-0 deficit to the Cincinnati Reds on 6 homeruns, no less. Glen “G-Unit” Rusch just didn’t have it yet again yesterday, giving up one homer after another in his 4 innings of work. Well at least “Charles” Bronson Arroyo didn’t take him yard again.

Oh wait…

I’m afraid that’s going to be the story of the Cubs this year, at least in the early going, inconsistency in the starting rotation. A few good outings followed by a couple of absolute disasters. As far as G-Unit goes, I’m not sure what the team should do with him. He didn’t look good in the spring, and his two starts against the Reds have been awful. Maybe it’s just that the Reds have his number? Maybe it was the conditions he was pitching in? After all, it’s not good to be a flyball pitcher in a launching pad like GBP or at Wrigley on a day in which the wind is blowing out (as it was yesterday). Maybe he’ll settle down and give a better performance against a team other than Cincinnati. I’d give him one, maybe two more starts to show something before demoting his ass to the pen and bringing up someone like Angel Guzman or maybe Rich Hill.

To top off the fun that was yesterday’s 9-2 rout, the Cubs have a couple of injuries to report. Jaques Jones strained a hammy running in the outfield and A-Ram strained his ass (right glute actually) while taking a swing. Both are day-to-day, although knowing Aramis this injury will linger for about 3 months and he’ll become even slower than he usually is, if that’s even possible. Look for Angel Pagan and Neifi in the lineup today.

Today the Cubs send Mad Dog to the hill to face the Medium Red Machine. Mad Dog has become somewhat of a slow starter the last few years, but was impressive in his first start of the season last Friday. Hopefully he can keep the ball down on these guys as the wind will probably be blowing out again today. If he can do that, he’ll be in good shape. Mad Dog’s lifetime record against the ‘Nati is 17-16 with a 3.65 ERA, although the Reds have given him a hard time during the last three years. During that span his record is 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA. The Reds counter with Brandon Claussen who is 1-3 with a 7.91 ERA against the Cubs.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Prior Watch - Day 10

There is progress on the Mark Prior front as he continues to throw off a mound. Prior threw "close to 50 pitches in two separate sessions and made some progress" yesterday according to Larry Rothschild. He's penciled in for a start during the second turn through the rotation, no later than March 11.

Wait a minute....why is this even news? Oy.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Classic Now

The World Baseball Classic has begun, with the Asian teams starting off the tournament. Despite all the jingoism and the commercials proclaiming "For country, for baseball" this tournament smacks of a contrived money grab by Major League baseball. What with the poor timing of the event, a lot of the major stars dropping out, Asian teams wearing uniforms with old English script on the front, and some of the dumb rules set in place (pitch counts, mercy rule) it's really nothing more than a glorified exhibition under the pretense of "globalizing the game of baseball". Never mind that baseball is already quite "globalized", with its intense popularity in the Caribbean and South America, as well as historically strong popularity in Asia. The game did this all by itself without the need of some bs tournament which has the thrown together appearance of the rec leagues I used to play in (only our games weren't televised on ESPN).

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a World Cup-style baseball tournament. Get every country to put together teams of their best players and battle it out to see which country reigns supreme. But if you're going to use major leaguers, do it after the season, in November. The timing of this tournament couldn't be worse. Most players aren't in game shape, and many are dropping out for fear of injury. Not to mention the fact that you're screwing up a few teams' spring trainings by taking away their players for almost an entire month. For instance the Cubs are without their two catchers for the majority of spring training. How much of an effect this will have on the pitching staff is unknown, but it certaintly doesn't help. This most definitely would have played better in November.

But despite all these negatives I've just mentioned I'm still going to watch. And to be honest, I'm kind of excited about the whole thing. Even if the WBC really is contrived, and I've yet to see a real reason why South Africa, the Netherlands, and Italy are in this thing, it's still baseball. And after a long winter, any baseball on TV is great. To me a worldwide tournament featuring major league players is a lot better than watching a spring training game featuring a bunch of guys I've never heard of playing in their batting practice jerseys in a tiny ballpark in the middle of the desert. But that's just me. Even there is nothing really "classic" about the World Baseball Classic it'll still be interesting to see how fast the Domincan team will reach the mercy rule, how well the Cubans will fare, how many Cubans will defect and get immediately signed by the Yankees, and if the Venezuelans can ride their pitching to the title. If nothing else, it's real baseball. Well, sort of. Either way its a lot better than the alternatives in sports television (save for the NCAA's). I'm going to enjoy this.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Prior Watch - Day 4

Northside For Life's continuing coverage of the annual Mark Prior spring training saga:

After spending Thursday discussing how he he couldn't figure out who was behind all the bum shoulder rumors, Prior took the mound on Friday and made a few pitches. About 20 to be exact. And he wasn't exactly letting 'em rip, although one has to consider that this was his first time on a mound this year. He had to get used to being on the hill, had to make friends with the mound-become one with it. This takes a little bit of time you know.

Again, the Cubs and Prior insist that getting Mark loosened up is a process. Apparently a very slow, deliberate process. At this rate, he'll be ready just in time for the All-Star break. The Cubs' spin on this is that his offseason routine was slowed down due to serious illness back in December, as well as trying to have him follow a program that will reduce his spring aches and pains. Um, ok. Meanwhile everyone else on the team is letting it rip. Well as long as Prior is ready for his first start in April, and comes out pitching like the Mark Prior we've all come to know and love (you know, the 2003 version) then he could train however the hell he wants to. You know this wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for those pesky rumormongers. Then again, it wouldn't give bloggers like me material to write on either. I mean, Prior Watch 2006? It's comedy gold. You have to have fun with it. Either that, or just live with the angst and crippling fear of having to worry about a young millionaire's golden arm without knowing what's really going on. Thinking that his health is the key to the season. Um, no. Fuck that.

Without the ongoing concern over Prior's health status, what other fun stuff could I write about? I guess I could always rip on Dusty. He's been dropping some beauties lately, such as:

"Joe Black told me years ago, because I had a little dilemma going on with myself, and he said, 'Remember, you're a hitter, not a slugger,'"

For some reason the name Joe Black brings to mind that stupid movie with Brad Pitt and a mailing-it-in Anthony Hopkins. Dusty's dilema now however is who to play at second base. He made it seem like it was Walker's job to lose, only to turn around and pimp Jerry Hairston for the position. Never mind that Dusty was regularly calling him out in the press most of last year. In fact Jerry was the only player Dusty ripped in the media. And now he's talking him up. Altough I like Hairston's moxie, I don't know about have to watch him play everday. If Dusty decides to go that route, he might want to invest in a GPS device to help Jerry navigate the bases. And then of course there's Neifi. And we all know about Dusty's love for the guy. I'll just leave it at that. Don't want to jinx anything.

Meanwhile, Kerry "Splintered" Wood also took the mound today, and made a few throws. Apparently both he and Wade Miller, who is also coming off labrum surgery, have been making good progress in camp and are "feeling good". Take it for what its worth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Prior Watch - Day 2

Northside For Life's continuing coverage of this year's Mark Prior spring training saga:

Yesterday Prior issued his second denial in a week, stating that his arm is feeling fine and that he'll begin throwing off a mound on Thursday. According to him, "It's a process to get ready for the season. It's not just show up and go to work." For the past couple of years Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild has maintained that Prior is on a different, more deliberate training schedule than the rest of the Cubs pitching staff to slowly work his arm into shape. So apparently getting Prior's arm into pitching form is akin to starting a '71 Dodge Charger on a 10 degree day after its been sitting out all night in the cold. In other words, it'll be a while. Grab your Snickers bar and sit down.

Getting Mark into shape is a process damnit! Or so they keep telling us. We'll just have to wait until he actually takes the mound on Thursday and makes some pitches. Then wait with baited breath as Rothschild, Hendry, Prior and maybe Baker tell us that he's feeling good. Then maybe we can call off this year's Prior Watch.

In the meantime, Prior seems to be getting kinda annoyed with all the attention him and his golden right arm have gotten during his time in Chicago:

"Everybody wants to find something wrong. ... I'm not going to sit here and defend or validate anything. There have been a lot of rumors in my career. There's really not much I can say about it. That's people's opinions."


''I think McNabb said it best, some people like you, some people don't like you and for whatever reason, a lot of those people have voices."

That's what happens when you're hearlded as the Cubs' "Pitching Jesus" only to continuosly have problems. When that happens people are inevitably going to talk, Mark. You're just going to have put on your big boy pants and deal with it.

In the meantime Northside For Life will keep you posted anything and everything Prior. The man on the inside, Manny the Hot Dog Vendor, hasn't had anything new to report, but rest assured he'll be keeping his eyes and ears open. Well after he's done dumping out the hot dog water anyway.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Stiff Brees

Its kind of odd to see an NFL post when spring training is just getting underway but I just couldn't let this one go.

The San Diego Chargers are letting QB Drew Brees test the free agent waters. And of course, fans and radio talk-show hosts in Chicago are clamoring for the Bears to go out of their way to sign him. Given that the Bears designated QB of the future Rex Grossman can't seem to play more than 3 games a year, this would seem like a good idea. However:

1) Brees is coming off shoulder surgery after separating it while doing his best Plasticman impression in the season finale.
2) The Bears are likely going to have him compete for the starting job with Rex Grossman. Why would he agree to that when he could sign with a variety of teams that need a starting QB and would garauntee a starting spot (like the Jets, Dolphins, Saints, Raiders, Bills, and Lions to name a few).
3) The Bears could better use that money to cover other more pressing needs, like another WR, a TE, or maybe adding depth to their cornerback position.

Talk about Brees all you want folks, the Bears aren't getting him. Nor should they even bother.