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The Tribune said this morning that former Cubs pitcher Kevin Foster died of cancer on Saturday at the age of 39.
I have some fond memories of Foster, who for a time was just about the only bright shining spot of a ridiculously bad Cubs rotation - not that his star shone all that bright, either.
However, Foster along with Jeremi Gonzalez were two Cubs pitchers from the mid 90's who gave this Cubs fan something to believe in, back in the days before I realized how shoddy the organization really was. In 1997, the Cubs had Foster, then 28, and Gonzalez, then 23, combine to win 21 games for a team that won 68 on the season. Neither would accomplish much after that year, and both are now gone.
I can't help but wonder - is Amaury Telemaco next?
With apologies for stepping on Rob's rebuttal to my Nine Reasons post...
Part One - The Guys Who Remain:
Yesterday I posted a long article about why the Cubs will win next year, but like the political candidate on the campaign trail, I gave no specifics and got dodgy when people called me out on my promises. However, like a lot of you I've still got baseball on the brain and I can't help but think about how to keep this team competitive for next season. So, who are the guys who'll be back for sure?
C Geovany Soto - the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year will hopefully be productive in a Cubs uniform for years to come.
1B Derrek Lee - A big contract and a no-trade clause make this a no-brainer, with all due respect to those who want to send him packing. While I can understand the frustration directed at Lee - not just for the decrease in offense this year, but also for the harsh words about booing Cub fans - I think the place where the debate should be had is in regards to his spot in the lineup. Lee should not be batting third next season. He`s a #2 hitter or a #6 hitter at best.
2B Mark DeRosa - He has one year remaining on his $13 million contract with the Cubs. I doubt he will be as offensively great as he was this past season, but DeRosa has proven to be a very valuable asset with the Cubs.
SS Ryan Theriot - Theriot won't be a free agent, but should he be a starter? After the '07 season ended, his position was the one that I thought would most likely be upgraded. I lamented at the time that, if he'd only gotten about 1 extra hit a week over the span of the season, then he'd be loved not loathed. Well, Theriot did even better than that - he had 178 hits, compared with 143 from the previous year. He also drew a ton of walks, while regretfully displaying to me two flaws in his game that might be beyond his abilities to overcome. Those are: limited defensive range, which may have hurt the Cubs in the playoffs, and a tendency to get caught stealing way too often. If the Cubs can improve offensively elsewhere, keeping Theriot won't be a bad thing, necessarily, but he may find himself in a backup role on next year's team, and that won't necessarily be a bad thing.
3B Aramis Ramirez - A-Ram remains a valuable asset to the Cubs lineup. I hope that, in 2008, he maintains his newfound plate discipline, and I hope Lou uses him correctly in the lineup - in the #3 position.
LF Alfonso Soriano - Sorry, folks. An 8 year deal would make him close to untradeable even if the Cubs wanted to. I will reiterate something from earlier this season: if you want a guy to help the Cubs cease a quick lead, Soriano is your man. No player is more likely to hit a leadoff homerun than this guy, and he statistically does better early in a game. But if you want a guy to deliver the clutch homerun at the end of the game, look elsewhere. Whlie the Fonz flailed and failed yet again this October, he remains a valuable asset to the Cubs. He also is incredibly streaky, and he wasn't exactly setting the world on fire before the playoffs this year. He's capable of doing better, and he just might next year.
RF Kosuke Fukudome - Rumor has it that the Fooky is thinking about ripping up his contract and going back to Japan. I don't see it happening. Fukudome has the potential to do better than he did, and if we actually went back and look at early season predictions, we'd find that he met or surpassed the expectations of some very cynical Cub fans. I'm talking to you, Rob. These are your words from March of this year: "People are gonna say FukU (will have 'dropped this biggest turd') because he is NOT going to hit for a high average in 2008...probably around .250. His OBP will still be over .350, though." I think the frustration stems from his white hot start. If Fukudome does return next year, the Cubs will probably consider moving him to center field and upgrading offensively at right.
IF Mike Fontenot - Depending on what's up with DeRosa, Fontenot could find himself playing more next year, which might be a mistake. Little Babe Ruth did well this season, but he belongs as a bench player. He may find himself in the Professional Pinch Hitter position with the Cubs next year ... and they could do worse than him if that's the case.
IF Ronny Cedeno - Every team needs a 25th guy on their roster, and Cedeno is the Cub's guy. I don't like him, I don't want to see him in close games, I don't want him to be the defensive replacement, but he's there and I have to imagine he'll be back.
OF Felix Pie - Either the Cubs will be dealing Pie, or he'll be starting in center, or he'll be a backup, but he's not going back to Iowa. Although he is now a player of diminished expectations, Pie remains one of the biggest wild cards on the team - if he ever actually figures out major league hitting, he could be a tremendous asset. But it's a big if.
SP Carlos Zambrano - In an apparent effort to garner attention in this time where reading about the Cubs is pretty much the last thing people want to do, one Cubs blogger has written up a post suggesting that if the Cubs ever win, it'll be after trading Zambrano. I think not. Carlos is no longer a sure thing, though. His arm appears healthy. Lord knows they checked it enough this year. But the velocity problems, the soreness problems, the massive amount of use he's seen in his career, at this stage it's a little concerning. If I were laying odds, I'd think it might be 2-1 or 4-1 that Carlos will be seriously injured before his most recent contract ends. But will that happen in 2009? Hopefully not if the Cubs tread carefully.
SP Ted Lilly - I may be wrong, but I believe that Lilly will be in the last year of his deal with the Cubs. After winning 32 in his first two seasons, I won't be surprised to see him do it again in a walk year.
SP Rich Harden - Harden's health is perhaps the biggest pitching issue next season, but his talent makes him worth the risk. Thankfully, the Cubs have a few other guys who could step in if the Cubs third ace needs a few weeks to rest every once in a while.
SP Jason Marquis - If Jim Hendry has a To Do list this off season, let's hope "Trade Jason Marquis" is on there somewhere near the top.
Other SP's - Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Chad Gaudin, Rich Hill - The first three on this list will certainly make the roster in some capacity. There will certainly be room for one new starter on the Cubs next year, be it because Dempster does not return, or Marquis is dealt or demoted to the bullpen. Rich Hill is a mystery, and we very well may never see him again, but he just might surprise us.
RP's - Neal Cotts, Michael Wuertz, Carlos Marmol - At this point, while they will almost certainly be joined by some of the guys listed above, only Cotts and Marmol are certain to return to the bullpen in '09. Wuertz is a big if. An improved pen may well be at the very top of Hendry's off season list, because while the Cubs pen did not necessarily cost the team against the Dodgers, Jim couldn't have helped but notice that the Dodgers elite bullpen held the Cubs offense down.
Part Two - Free Agents Who May Return
SP Ryan Dempster - This is the biggest area of interest this off season. I'm sure there are some people who think that Dempster will be an elite pitcher next season. I'm not one of them. However, I do think he'll have a good 2009, and maybe even a good '10 and '11. If Jim Hendry can negotiate a reasonable deal with Dempster - say, 3 years for 30-36 million with an option for a 4th year - then I support his return. But if Dempster demands 4 or 5 years for 14 million or more, the Cubs will need to wish him the best and let him go. He may win 15 next year, and he may keep his ERA below 4, but if Dempster gets Cy Young votes this year I suspect that they will be the only ones he ever gets.
CL Kerry Wood - Some Cub fans already have visions of Wood Returning to the Rotation dancing in their heads. It sure would be cool. But even as a closer, Kerry missed about a month of the season. He has the potential to be an elite closer if he stays healthy, and I think that he will return to Chicago. Now here's a question for you, the reader - how many years should Hendry offer him?
C Henry Blanco - Hank White has an option, but he may choose to retire. At this stage, he's a pricey backup catcher who's hit fairly well the last few years, and I get the feeling that the Cubs enjoy having him on the team if only because he intimidates fans from approaching them at airports.
OF's Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds - Jim Hendry pulled Reed off the scrapheap last year, and the former Jay repaid the team by being a tremendous roleplayer. Hendry then rolled the dice with Edmonds, who also was a surprise hit. Jim may be tempted to bring both of them back - he should resist it. Edmonds has Gaetti written all over him. Reed, on the other hand, is the kind of backup outfielder that every team wants, and I'd support his return via a 2 year deal.
Part Three - Gone but not forgotten:
Daryle Ward, Jim Edmonds, Bob Howry, Jon Lieber - They all had their moments with the '08 team. Some more than others. Let's remember them, thank them for their contributions, and throw up in our mouths if any of them actually return with the team.
Part Four - Places to Upgrade, Things to Ponder
2B, SS - Hendry will likely try to upgrade at one of these two positions. Considering the size of his contract and how important a piece DeRosa was to the '08 squad, it seems likelier that Theriot will become a backup next season - perhaps forcing Cedeno off the team. There are some interesting options out there via the free agency market, according to MLB Trade Guy" href="http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2007/12/2009-mlb-free-a.html" target="_blank">Crazy MLB Trade Rumors Guy. (With a name like that, how can you resist checking him out?) Without preference or prejudice, here are the potential free agents according to that insane source: Willie Bloomquist (31), Orlando Cabrera (34), Alex Cintron (30), Alex Cora (33), Craig Counsell (38), David Eckstein (34), Adam Everett (32), Rafael Furcal (31), Nomar Garciaparra (35), Jerry Hairston Jr. (33), Cesar Izturis (29), Felipe Lopez (29), Edgar Renteria (33), Juan Uribe (30), Ramon Vazquez (32), Omar Vizquel (42).
RF, CF - If Hendry bids farewell to Edmonds, as he should, then he has three options. A) Live or Die with Felix Pie (which would sound great if it actually rhymed), 2) Pursue a new CFer, via free agency or trade or C) Move Fukudome to center and pursue a new RFer via free agency or trade.
Potential free agent CFers: Rocco Baldelli (27), Willie Bloomquist (31), Mike Cameron (36) - $10MM club option for '09 with a $750K buyout, Jim Edmonds (39), Jerry Hairston Jr. (33) Gabe Kapler (33), Mark Kotsay (33), Corey Patterson (29), Scott Podsednik (33).
Potential free agent RFers: Bobby Abreu (35), Casey Blake (35), Cliff Floyd (36) - $2.75MM club option for '09 with a $0.25MM buyout, Brian Giles (38) - $9MM club option for '09 with a $3MM buyout, Ken Griffey Jr. (39) - $16.5MM club option for '09 with a $4MM buyout, Vladimir Guerrero (33) - $15MM club option for '09 with a $3MM buyout, Gabe Kapler (33), Jason Michaels (33) - $2.6MM club option for '09, Fernando Tatis (34), Brad Wilkerson (32).
SP - I've already mentioned that Dempster may stay or go. I think we'll all agree at this point that if he's somebody Hendry wants to keep, then Ryan will be wearing Cubs Blue next year, as Hendry hasn't lost a player on his radar in years now. I've also already mentioned my fierce desire to deal Marquis - in a market saturated with good starting pitchers, I actually like the Cubs chances of dealing him because somebody will still come out a free agency loser and will be looking to upgrade through trades. The Cubs may have one or as many as two new starting pitchers next April, but I don't think they need to actively seek one out on the market.
RP - Middle relief is the toughest thing to improve upon through free agency. I will refer to my rule of thumb, developed a few years ago - never sign a free agent middle reliever over the age of 32, and even then, sign him to no more than a 2 or 3 year deal. The more likely case here will be acquisition through trades, fingers crossed that Jim can pull something out of his hat.
Part Five - On the blog
In case you missed it, Goat Reader Madisoncubaholic wrote a post today about her many various feelings on the team. At one point, she wrote: "On this website I was told when I predicted that this years team did not 'have it' that I would have no right to partake in the celebration when they did win it. I guess you have to drink the Kool-aide without asking any questions." I'd just like to address that briefly.
On the contrary, Cubaholic, we do not drink the Kool-aide here and you should know that by now. There was no lovely-dovey all is well rhetoric in my posts, or anybody elses, and certainly not in the shoutbox. Point of fact, I called that kind of Cub fan out very loudly in my Game One Recap. Rather thank make you go find it, I'll quote the relevant part: "I hate the Pollyannas out there who cling to the bitter end, until the very last out of the final game even if the Cubs are being blown out. Those people make me want to puke. But as much as I hate Cub Fan Pollyanna, I can't stand Cub Fan Nietzsche even more."
Do you know when, in any future season, we'll know for sure if the Cubs have what it takes to win the World Series? When a Cubs player's glove closes in on the final out of the World Series, and not a moment before. Alternatively, do you know when, in any future season, we'll know for sure if the Cubs don't have what it takes? The answer is not weeks before season ends, while the Cubs are in first place. The answer is not after they get brutally beaten in the first game of a playoff series. It's not even if they enter an elimination game of a playoff series.
As a fan, Cubaholic, you nor I have the stomach for players who quit before the game is over. I am sure you'll agree with me that you feel absolute, total disgust toward any team that loses its fire before the last out is made. I apologize, but I also feel that way about fans. It's not about "swilling the koolaid." It's not about donning the rose-colored glasses. It's about pure, total disgust toward quitters.
I said it then, I'll say it now, and I'm sure I'll say it again: I was there in the tough times, and I wasn't alone. A lot of us were there. We were frustrated, we were pissed, and we were heartbroken. But if you don't have the stomach for the hard times, if you essentially quit because it doesn't look good, then you have no place nor right to be there when it's easy. If you're pissed because they are in the middle of blowing it, be pissed. Express it. Criticize the team for bad play - lord knows I did. Tell us how displeased you are. I welcome it. Voice your fears that they're going to blow it. I'd understand and probably commiserate with you.
But the second you start saying things like "it's over," unless it really is over, then I've got no place for you. It's not swilling the koolaid, Cubaholic. Far from it.
To: The Cub Fan Army
From: The Goat Riders of the Apocalypse
Subject: You need to wake up!
Hi there, Cub Fan Army. Sorry it took me so long to return your desperate EMails. You know the ones - they had subject headings like "The Cubs lost game one! It's all over!" And, "If you don't believe in the curse, you're insane!" And, lastly, "Jim Hendry needs to completely dismantle this abortion of a team, ASAP!"
You remember those? I can't tell you how badly they pissed me off. Hey, I'm a Cub fan too, just as much as you are. I sat through all the games, I wore my jerseys on a daily basis - and there's nothing dorkier than wearing baseball jerseys in a foreign city when you're not even going to a game - I cursed when something stupid happened, I bellowed joyfully whenever the team won, and I harbored those same fantasies of a World Series in Chicago later this month. In other words, when the wheels came off, I was in the car just like you. So why is it that I am excited about the 2009 season while you're moping, complaining, and making comments so absurd that I just feel this compelling urge to travel back in time and stop Al Gore from inventing the internet?
Hey, we're all bummed out. I don't even want to look at the boxscores right now. ESPN - which was a daily trip for me as recently as two days ago, is now on my personal banned list. Hell, a Cubs blog - even one as cool as this one - would probably be the last place I'd want to visit right now. (And yet, ironically, here I am writing on one. The gawds must have a strange sense of humor.)
I guess I'm here for a good reason, actually. It is apparently my duty to tell you why you need to get back on board. Apparently, I am to serve as Voice of Reason in these troubled times - and that should tell you just how desperate Reason must be right about now. But hey - if you're here reading this, I don't think you're looking for somebody who shares your sadness. I think you're looking for comfort. I mean, hey, if you came to the Goat Riders of the Apocalypse for anything other than heralding of doom, demise, and hellfire, then you are going to be sorely disappointed, my friends, because I'm going to give you nine reasons why the Cubs will be fine in 2009. And you know what? I could have given you more, but 9 fine in 2009 just fits.
Reason One: A new owner cometh
Yep, in case you were living under a rock somewhere, here's a news item for you: The Cubs are going to be sold soon! Wow! Crazy! And while we do not yet know the name of the next person to own the Cubs, I can guarantee you one thing: that crazy son of a bitch will be flying into town in a moneyplane, and he's going to be looking to win. Maybe that guy will be Mark Cuban. Maybe it'll be a surprise. But whomever it is, you can bet that they will strive to give the Cubs all the financial backing they need to get the right players for the job. That is a huge advantage for the Cubs.
Reason Two: The benefits of experience
While you lament the fact that the Cubs "choked," that their players did terribly, that they should be shipped out of town in a shiny box for some other schmuck, have you ever considered that a player who reaches the playoffs a lot eventually gets comfortable there? Sure, Alfonso Soriano tanked again. Does that mean he'll always tank in October? Sure, Ryan Theriot, Mark DeRosa, Aramis Ramirez, and even Derrek Lee played Not It with the baseball in Game Two. Does that mean they'll never be comfortable fielding groundballs with no room for error? I say no. And that leads us to the third reason...
Reason Three: The crushing odds ... in favor
Legendary - and possibly overrated - A's GM Billy Beane once famously said something like, "as a GM, all I can do is assemble the best possible team to get to the playoffs. Once they're in, it's a crapshoot." And if we actually look back on all the teams to win a World Championship this decade, we might be shocked to discover that many of them failed to do it on their first try. A lot of those teams competed and floundered in the playoffs, but rather than see their GM label them a squad of failures and dismantle them, they were tinkered with, they were improved, and they eventually succeeded. The best example - the Cardinals. Since the year 2000, it took them 6 trips to the playoffs before they actually won a World Series. But win it they did ... to our dismay. In other words, if the Cubs keep making the playoffs, they're more likely to actually win them sometime.
Reason Four: The Cubs will keep making the playoffs
While some fans expect the Cubs to return to the mean - they're the frackin' Cubs, after all - what they have failed to consider is this simple truth: the Cubs didn't reach the post season via fluke. And, unlike past seasons in which we could count on a good 3-5 year waiting period before a playoff return, these Cubs are in good position to climb back in the saddle again next season. And probably even the season after that, too.
Reason Five: The names that change
Okay, so maybe some of these guys need to go. I hate to break it to you, but Soriano is not one of them. Neither is Fukudome, nor DeRosa, nor even Derrek "DP" Lee. But what you can count on is for Jim Hendry to evaluate the team fairly and take steps to improve them again next year. While this squad will look very similar in '09, they will not have rested on their laurels, and the players brought in will be guys Hendry targeted specifically for one reason: because he wants the Cubs to win the World Series.
Reason Six: Newsflash: The Cubs aren't cursed!
I know, you are reading this message on a website called "Goat Riders of the Apocalypse." Unless you think we are a covert Dutch porn site, we are obviously paying homage to the Goat Curse and the joke that a Cubs championship will herald the end of the world. But guess what? Curses aren't real! And even if curses were real, it would take more than an angry tavern owner with a pet goat for them to occur! Otherwise, people would be breaking out in boils all the time! Don't believe me? Fine! I hereby curse all those who believe in curses to suffer from immense flatulence for the remainders of their life! May you never smell fresh air again! Hah!
Reason Seven: The pressure is off
How many times did we hear about how, if the Cubs didn't win this year, it would be 100 seasons without a championship? All year long, it was 100 that, 100 this, a century of futility, blah blah blah. Well, sorry Cub fans, but it happened. And while next year is technically worse, it just doesn't have the same ring to it - "one hundred and one years of futility" just has too many syllables. Since the Cubs have already accomplished that one goal they were desperate to avoid, it shouldn't be on everybody's minds next year. At least, that's the theory.
Reason Eight: Lou Piniella is tired
Sweet Lou is old. He wants to go home. He suffers from "senior moments." He quite frankly looks like he's about 7 months pregnant (sorry to bring it up, Lou, we love you). Lou Piniella came to Chicago to end his career on a high note - by winning a World Series. While Jim Hendry has extended him through the 2010 season, does anybody expect him to be here that long? Lou Piniella doesn't want to take 2 more years to win a Series. He wants to do it now. He probably has half a mind to make the team fly to Philly as if the Dodgers had never won anything. Piniella will stop at nothing to achieve is goal next season, and if that means forcing his team to win on sheer will alone, he'll do it.
Reason Nine: All the pieces will be there
You think the Cubs were a complete team in '08? Just wait until you see them in '09. Imagine a Cubs team with a Fukudome who has adjusted to major league hitting. Imagine a Cubs team in which Soriano stays healthy, Soto blooms as a sophomore, and the Cubs bullpen finds their groove in a season without Eyre and Howry. Imagine a Cubs team with an even stronger offense - that is the direction they are headed in this off season. They were already the best team in the NL. They're going to get better. They are going to win.
Still not convinced, Cub Fan Army? You've still got goats and Bartmans dancing in your head? I will leave you with this, and I just want you to think about it for a while:
Maybe life is not fair, maybe the world is cruel and stinging, maybe our hearts were made to be broken. But between all the heartbreak and sadness are moments, infantisimal in length yet seemingly infinite. It is these moments that define our lives - your first kiss, the first night spent with the love of your life (and the last), long departures and short reunions. Our love of sports in general and Cubs baseball in particular can certainly be described as cruel. We live with heartbreak, this weekend is only the most recent example. But our moment is coming, even if some of us will never live to see it. And that moment, when the Cubs win, it will be glorious. Believe me, it's coming. And if you don't believe ... well, what the hell are you doing here to begin with, then?
And so, with great disappointment, the 2008 season has come to a close.
We had another "incident" on the blog during last night's game. A fan who said he's been following the team for 50 years began commenting in the shoutbox, essentially saying that the first team in his lifetime to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons needed to be dismantled, Lou needed to go, and essentially the Cubs needed to start over from scratch because they players are too damaged to win.
So, to recap:
During Game 1, we had Doom and Gloom Fans proclaim that the season was over, it was hopeless, and the Dodgers were the first team in history to clinch a playoff series after winning only the first game.
During Game 2, we had a fan say that it's clearly the curse, and you'd have to be an idiot to not believe that mystical powers were at work.
During Game 3, we had a fan proclaim the team broken, damaged, and in need not of repair but of dismantling.
But in the middle of all that were dozens of other Cub fans who, like me, were saddened by the performance of their team. We were made to feel sick to our stomachs. We got pissed, we swore, we cursed, some of us probably even cried.
I don't live on a hill, or behind a pulpit. I'm not looking down on people from a pedestal. I'm just another fan, like everybody else reading this blog, and I really have no place to preach at people. More importantly, I am certainly not a better fan than anybody. Anybody.
But I am very tired of certain kinds of fans. The pessimists, the woe-is-me's, the doom-sayers, I feel great frustration when I hear from those people. All along we've known a few simple facts - the Cubs were the best team to enter the playoffs, but the playoffs are a crap-shoot where momentum means everything. The best team got eliminated last night, and it happened because they lost their momentum very early in Game 1 and never found a way to get it back.
It's not about curses, it's about crap-shoots. As Billy Beane has always said, you can assemble a great team and put all the pieces together, but once they actually get there other factors come into play. So, to all the insanely negative fans who have allowed a lifetime of losing to distort their world views, I'm sorry, but I have nothing for you.
Go join a goth coven, paint your nails black, slap on the eyeliner and write poems about how you want to cut your forearms because it's the only way you can tell you're still alive, okay?
Now, last night, Colin and I made an executive decision to ban the comments of a flamer/troll who kept going on and on about how the Cubs were doooooomed and needed to be dismantled. I told that reader this, and I'll say it again now: I am over it. But if you - you, whomever you are, who's reading this - honestly feel that way, I welcome you to voice your views in the Reader Blog section. We won't delete it, we won't banish you, we won't punish you, and if you write it eloquently enough I'll probably even post it on the main page of GROTA.
You believe in curses? Post about it. We won't light you on fire and toss you off a proverbial cliff. You think the Cubs were doomed to lose after the game one fiasco, and they went on to prove you right? Post about it. But, to be fair, we've got readers - and Riders, for that matter - who will probably loudly express their views too.
What Is To Come
Let's end this post on a more positive note. I'm going to do a year-in-review podcast tomorrow. It will be shorter - 15 to 20 minutes tops - and it'll be more about what's happened at GROTA than it will be about the Cubs.
Based on our web hits, we've gained a lot of readers in the past year (and especially in the past 2 or 3 months). Point of fact, it's only October 5th and we're already close to halfway toward matching our total visits in all of October, 2007. Obviously, I would expect things to slow down again now that the Cubs are out of it, but I want all of the new Goat Readers out there to know that we're going to continue bringing you good content every day of the off season. We're not going anywhere, we hope that you go nowhere, too.
I've also got a few surprises in mind. Stick around, because I think you'll enjoy them.
12:11 A.M. - Good night.
12:09 A.M. - Fukudome grounds to short. Soriano is up.
12:07 A.M. - Theriot down on strikes. Fukudome up.
12:03 A.M. - Neil Cotts makes me look like a hater. Dodgers down in order, it's the top of the ninth now. Three outs til winter. Please, please, please let it be miracle time.
12:02 A.M. - According to Tony Gwynn, the Dodgers are "getting their hack on."
11:57 P.M. - Why is Neil Cotts pitching?
11:54 P.M. - DeRo strikes out. Middle of 8th, Cubs 1, Dodgers 3. Three outs remain in the imminent season.
11:52 P.M. - Apparently it is spelled Broxton. Anyhow, Ronny Cedeno runs for Ward and steals second.
11:49 P.M. - And we're on the board! Ward hits a shallow pop fly that falls in, Lee scores, DeRosa's coming to the plate, but Torre goes to the bullpen. Jonathan Brockston is the new pitcher for the Dodgers.
11:45 P.M. - Aramis strikes out, Geo pops out. It's up to Daryl Ward. He swings and misses (badly) at the first pitch.
11:41 P.M. - Derrek Lee doubles to lead off the 8th. Earlier, the commentators were talking about the defeated body language of the club. Most of the batters were sitting, dejected, on the bench. Lee was the only one standing at the railing watching the game.
11:37 P.M. - Manny Ramirez is retired for the first time today. Marmol is pitching well. It's the top of the eighth, the Cubs have six outs to score 3 runs or the season is caput. I'm not ready for that yet. Can it please be miracle time now?
11:34 P.M. - Furcal is retired for the first time today. Not for the first time, I wish the Cubs had been successful in signing him.
11:26 P.M. - Theriot and Fukudome reach against Kuroda, so Torre brings in Corey Wade. Soriano swings at the first pitch and flies harmlessly to left field. Somewhere Chuck discharges a weapon in a furious rage. Passed ball and Theriot moves to third. 2 outs in the seventh with two on for Mikey Fontenot. (I've pegged Mike as the Craig Counsell of the 2008 Cubs playoff run. It turns around here.) But it doesn't as Kemp catches the ball hit 390 feet to center. Damn! (In the backround, James Blunt keeps crooning about how hollow he is.)
11:18 P.M. - Lou double switched. Marmol is pitching, Fukudome replaces Edmonds in center. Marmol induces Casey Blake to ground out to short. DeWitt advances to third but is stranded there when Marmol K's Kuroda. Dodgers 3, Cubs 0. 3 innings remain. It's crunch time. I'm listening to James Blunt to help the tears start flowing.
11:09 P.M. - Blake DeWitt doubles off the right field wall. Mark DeRosa very nearly came too close to the wall, but made a nifty jumping barehanded grab of the ball off the wall to limit the damage to a double. Lou pulls Marshall for Marmol.
10:59 P.M. - Ron Darling says. "It seems like every pitch the Cubs hitters take is right down the middle and they're swinging at the ones off the plate." Tony Gwynn, Hall of fame hitter, concurs.
10:53 P.M. - Fangraphs has a Cubs loss as 90% probable. Link.
10:50 P.M. - Gawd! Furcal scores from first on a Russell Martin double. Theriot fumbles the cutoff so no play at the plate. Manny is intentionally passed again and Lou has gone to Marshall in the pen. Now, I'm just confused about Verducci's statement on Dempster. Dodgers 3, Cubs 0. Harden lasted 13 outs. Ouch.
10:47 P.M. - Verducci reports that Dempster is an option in the pen. This essentially confirms that Piniella is thinking about Z as the game 5 starter. I'm completely in favor of this development. Who would you rather have pitching today, Sean Marshall or Ryan Dempster?
10:43 P.M. - Soriano, Fontenot, and Lee down in order. Fontenot's flyout was well struck, otherwise, not much. My thoughts are that this game is playing out much the way I expect game two would have played out if the Cubs infield could have caught the ball.
10:38 P.M. - Tom Verducci reports that Mike Fontenot is not 100% and that Fukudome has been told to get ready in case he is needed.
10:32 P.M. - The Blogcast is now wearing a rally cap. Latest posts will be at the top. Well, my miracle didn't materialize as Rich Harden struck out, but he did come up with a 1, 2, 3 inning. He's thrown 70 pitches through 4 innings. At this point, I think we'll be fortunate to get six from Harden, and possibly fewer as I can't see Lou letting him bat in another important situation.
10:20 P.M. - Edmonds grounds out to the right side, advancing Geo to third with only one out... but DeRosa swings at the first pitch and grounds out to third, not scoring Geo. The Dodgers elect to walk Theriot and face Rich Harden instead. Come on... we need a miracle!
10:18 P.M. - Geo doubles, none out!
10:16 P.M. - Whew! First, Fontenot stays in the game. Second, Russell Martin pops up harmlessly to Geo. Then, Lou intentionally passes Manny like a Kidney stone. Andre Ethier scares the easily frightened portion of Cubdom with a warning track flyball that advances Furcal and Manny to Third and Second respectively. Then, after a brief discussion, Harden pitches to James Loney who also flies out and the third inning is in the books. Dodgers 2, Cubs 0. Harden at 54 pitches. We'll be lucky to get six out of him. Geo doubles, none out!
10:03 P.M. - This isn't looking so great. Ramirez bounced out to end the third, and Harden gave up a leadoff single to Rafael Furcal. After an attempted pickoff went wide, Furcal advanced to second and Mike Fontenot hurt himself. Six errors for the Cubs in three games, sayeth Dick Stockton.
9:53 P.M. - Harden grounds out, Soriano dribbles one to the mound as is easily retired... and Mike Fontenot takes a two strike sinker into center field for a single. Lee sees a few pitches and Derrek hits one through the left side hole. 2 men on, 2 out, Ramirez with a chance to change the momentum in this game.
9:46 P.M. - Dodgers go down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the second. Harden seems to have settled down and the hard contact went away this inning. Both pitchers are right below 30 pitches so far.
9:37 P.M. - Cubs go down 1, 2, 3 in the top of the second. 21 outs left in the season unless we turn it around.
9:27 P.M. - James Loney doubles, Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez scores. The Dodgers lead 2-0 and Rich Harden seems to be throwing BP.
9:21 P.M. - Suddenly I was watching Titanic, but I'm over on TBS now. Tom Verducci reports that Larry Rothschild extended Rich Harden a little longer in warm-ups so that he would start the game at max velocity. Not sure that it did any good as Russell Martin doubled and went to third on Manny's single. With the replay, I'm pretty sure the ump blew the call at third.
9:17 P.M. - After Aramis walks, Geo grounds out. No runs scored, but Kuroda threw 17 pitches to get through the 1st.
9:11 P.M. - Derrek Lee doubles, the bats will not be silenced tonight.
9:05 P.M. - Welcome, Colin. And for those previously watching Titanic on TNT, we now cut in with the Dodgers vs. Cubs game. Thanks Chilango for the tip.
9:03 P.M. - And of course the Brewers-Phillies game starts to get real interesting. How inconvenient. --CW
8:53 P.M. - 14 Minutes to go, and I finally googled that song on the Friday Night Lights commercial. Here's a YouTube of the song. It's called Devil Town.
8:29 P.M. - 38 Minutes to game time, but the Phils and Brewers are only in the 7th. It's touch and go whether TBS will cut away to LA for the first pitch.
Note: If you're looking for the new content. It's now at the top of the blog. Just a friendly note. - KJE
It's been a strange trip since the regular season ended. We've seen the steadiest Cubs pitcher this season fall apart on the mound. Then, the next night, we saw a steady-but-not-fantastic Cubs defense fall apart on the infield. We've seen Kosuke Fukudome perform a wind dance - actually, repeated wind dances - and we watched Carlos Zambrano give his second-best performance in the past month, only for it to be a pummeling. What we haven't seen is a Cubs victory.
We've also seen Cub fans declare it a Dodger victory after that first game's defeat. The next night, we had people telling us that we'd have to be insane not to believe in the goat curse. We've read stories about people crying, we've felt waves of frustration coming out of the Shout Box, and we've seen me quit multiple readers from reading this blog on at least two occasions. What we haven't seen is the Cubs offense come alive.
I don't know what will happen tonight. If you were being impartial, you would realize that you don't know, either. At the most, maybe you have a really good idea about what is to come.
Here's what I do know. I'll share it with you now:
- The Dodgers are so ridiculously over-matched on the mound tonight that there has to be some degree of worry there.
- Torre has stupidly used his #4 pitcher in relief in this series, and at this point I don't think anybody knows who would start Game 4 for the Dodgers.
- The Cubs are a much better team than what they've shown us so far.
- Anybody who truly and completely gives up before it's actually decided gets put on my list. Trust me, it's not a pleasant place to be.
I know it's bleak. I know that this team just might be broken. What I don't know is how much pressure they have tonight. I mean, the expectations are gone, aren't they? Isn't this just a long 9th inning for them? Teams score garbage runs in that kind of scenario. The Cubs just might do that.
Anyway, I've decided that I won't be blogcasting tonight. It's too late, I get too tired, and if the Cubs start losing I'll feel too depressed. But I will be around, I will create an open thread, and I'm sure there will be plenty of action in the shoutbox. There may even be a few f-bombs lobbed about.
But before I go right now, I'm going to offer up a scenario to you. It's probably been on the back of a lot of peoples' minds, but maybe they've been afraid to say it. But - in case you haven't heard - I don't believe in jinxes.
The Cubs are going to win tonight. Here's what it's going to look like:
Rich Harden is going to pitch tonight, and he's going to throw well. He will go 6-7 innings, walking no more than 3, and he's going to strike out 10 Dodgers - including Manny twice.
The Cubs offense is going to start out sluggish, but they're going to tack on a run here and a run there until the middle innings, where something big will happen. They won't score 10 tonight, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if Kerry Wood was called on to record his first playoff save, but the Cubs are going to put up a comfortable number of runs before Torre turns to the Dodger pen.
After Harden leaves the game, there will be a few concerning moments. The Cubs pen will look a little shaky. Maybe Lou will turn to Bob Howry for some insane reason, I don't know. But the Dodgers will nibble at the edges a little bit, putting up a run - or 2 - in the 7th and 8th innings.
Kerry Wood will come to the mound in the 9th nursing the most fragile 2 or 3 run lead that we've ever encountered. He will either hit or walk the first batter he faces. And then, with the Cub Fan Nation collectively forming what can only be described as a massive stress turd, Wood will escape the inning and the Cubs will have notched their first playoff win since 2003.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, if/when that happens, Ted Lilly will own them in Game 4. Believe me, that dude is still pissed about what happened last October. He's itching for the chance. And as far as Game 5 goes ... well, Ryan Dempster is pretty hard to beat at Wrigley Field, even when there are faint indications that he's pitching with a dry mouth and urine trickling down his leg.
Will it happen that way? How the hell would I know? But can it happen that way?
You better believe it. Go Cubs.
8:18PM Central - It's almost gametime and we're getting ready by watching the VP debate. I'll be doing another gamecast tonight, let's hope that we'll have a little more luck and, most important, let's keep our fingers crossed about Carlos Zambrano.
Now, I know some of us are nervous. I know that some of us have given up already. Some of us are distancing ourselves from the team - I dunno, maybe we're trying to avoid getting hurt. All I know is that this is a complete team, with incredibly deep pitching, and being down 1 game or not, this is the best chance we've had to win a Series in my lifetime.
As we enter into this game, I'm going to ask one thing and one thing only - no matter how good or bad it gets, let's try to stay civil. And let's go Cubs ... it's a huge game. I'm excited to see what happens.
8:36PM Central - The idiot broadcasters note that the ballpark is a lot louder tonight. I can't help but wonder if the organization sold tickets primarily to corporations and other non-traditional game attenders, but more real fans are there tonight. Hopefully these guys will be energetic and won't turn on the team at the first sign of distress - assuming there will be distress tonight. The next update will be after the Dodgers are set down.
8:42PM Central - Carlos has velocity and movement on his pitches. The first pitch he threw to Manny was 97 MPH and it broke in on Man-Ram's ankles. Manny tried to argue balls and strikes with the umpire - never a good sign for the first inning of a playoff game.
As nerve-wracking as Dempster had us with his erratic control, Carlos had a - dare I say it - easy first inning. Big sigh of relief from the Cub Fan Nation. Hmm. "Cub Fan Nation." That'd be a cool blog name.
8:54PM Central - Good news - Soriano got on to lead off the game and advanced to second on a passed ball, but the Cubs 2-4 hitters failed to capitalize. Billingsly is a little more erratic than Carlos so far. The Cubs were a patient team in the regular season, and more importantly, they got some huge production from their 5-8 hitters. Just pointing it out.
End of the 1st - Cubs 0, Dodgers 0
9:04PM Central - Blame Theriot for this one. He never would've had the runner headed to second, but he seemed confused by the play and speared the ball with his hand rather than his glove. Colin might remind us of his Theriot Concerns, but I seriously question Cedeno's clutch play, defensively or offensively.
A run scores then on a DeRosa bobble. Panic, again. At this point I am comfortable saying that the Cubs are pressured and pressing - except maybe for Carlos, who doesn't look bad despite the early failures of his defense.
And then Derrek screws up a play. This is flat out ridiculous.
9:10PM Central - LA is on a roll now. Carlos looks pissed, but in this case it's not really DeRosa's fault, Furcal is fast and he bunted. Regardless, Carlos is getting killed right now - how much of this is his fault? He gave up a big hit, a 3 run double to Russ Martin, but how many of those runners should have been on base?
I am not stressed out by this game. I'm pissed off. This is a ridiculous situation and the Cubs have nobody to blame but themselves. Theriot, DeRosa, and Lee all owe Carlos an apology - and later tonight, they may owe the entire city of Chicago one, as well.
They better work reaaaal hard to make it up to us in the next 8 innings.
End of the Top of the 2nd - Dodgers 5, Cubs 0
9:19PM Central - 1-2-3 inning. Nothing to report. The Cubs need to cease momentum very soon.
C. is sitting next to me, saying "I can't believe I'm so anxious and you're not." But why would I be anxious? I'm pissed. This is effing idiotic.
9:26PM Central - That was fast. Apparently when he doesn't rely on groundballs to his infield, Carlos is pretty tough to hit.
I'm still steamed, folks. I'm sure you are too. Players at that stage who make that money should be able to do their job. That means fielding routine groundballs and making what should be easy outs. This would be a 0-0 game if not for middle and corner infielders playing with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
End of the Top of the 3rd - Dodgers 5, Cubs 0
9:36PM Central - After Fukudome tries to fall over while striking out - seriously, you're supposed to be a professional hitter, do you need to watch some tape, Kosuke? - Carlos draws his first walk in over a year. The Fonz then flies out weakly and Ryan Theriot grounds out to short. He looked REALLY confused after the ground out because the ball was actually FIELDED.
End of the 3rd - Dodgers 5, Cubs 0
9:46PM Central - Carlos gets the first 2 outs with ease. I was starting to think that he was intentionally keeping the ball away from his field untrustworthy infielders... I don't think one has gone to them since they bobbled balls. Then, Aramis joins in and bobbles what should've been a third out. But this time, Carlos escapes without having to pay for his teammates mistakes.
End of the Top of the 4th - Dodgers 5, Cubs 0
9:54PM Central - C. is going to bed. She missed Derrek break up a double play with the last three fingers on his right hand, although it happened before long anyway.
In the regular season, I would feel absolute confidence that, even this late in a game, the Cubs could come back from the deficit they're in. In the post season ... eh. I don't really see it happening. But I could be wrong; somebody really needs to make a big play, be it plowing into someone, or hitting a homerun, or hustling their ass off in a key situation. That's my opinion, I could be wrong.
End of the 4th - Dodgers 5, Cubs 0
10:02PM Central - Manny hit another homerun to extend their lead. The Cubs made all 3 outs on the infield. I'm tired. I bet the Cubs score 1 run this game, in the 9th.
End of the top of the 5th - Dodgers 6, Cubs 0
10:09PM Central - Edmonds hits a long ball that lands in a glove off the ivy, and the Cubs go down quietly again.
I'm running out of energy, but I'll stick through this until the end. The bitter, horrible end. I wish I was drinking.
10:20PM Central - Goat Reader Sayers40 says, "Everyone thought we needed a big performance from Z tonight. We got on and it still doesn't matter." Very true.
Carlos had a horrible, terrible second inning, but only because his defenders failed to capitalize on ground balls. The only real mistake I have to give him is the solo shot to Ramirez. But at this point, the Cubs offense is dejected, and I don't see them doing jack against the Dodgers tonight.
I said yesterday that I'm no fan of Cub Fan Pollyannas, nor am I a fan of Cub Fan Nietzsches. I am realistic. Realistically, it would take a miracle to win tonight's game - and an even greater one to win this series. Maybe Jon Miller was right. Maybe the Dodgers were the team we didn't want to play.
End of the Top of the 6th - Dodgers 6, Cubs 0
10:27PM Central - At this point, I'm more interested in the results of the debate. I'm shocked to see that Carlos reached the 7th before he hit 100 pitches, considering that he tossed 28 in the 2nd.
Oh, btw, the Cubs failed to do anything in the 6th. As Bayma notes, it's been 12 innings of futility.
End of the 6th - Dodgers 6, Cubs 0
10:32PM Central - After 7.1 innings, Carlos has been pulled for Neal Cotts. The Moose looks morose in the dugout. I really don't blame him. This has been a total failure on the part of the Cubs lineup - defensive mistakes, an inability to capitalize, sometimes I think that the Cubs need a douche or something after every season to keep the team fresh with players who aren't burdened by the ridiculous pressure to win.
10:41 Central - Cotts comes in, struggles, and gives up a run after the Cubs infield shockingly fails to complete a double play. It's now 7 to nil and I am over this crap.
End of the top of the 7th - Dodgers 7, Cubs 0
10:56PM Central - Hey! Didja see that! The Cubs scored a run! In a game without errors, they're down 2-1 right now! w00t!
End of the 7th - Dodgers 7, Cubs 1
11:03PM Central - The Dodgers took back their run and then some. Jim Edmonds took a spill, and it's a serious blow out.
I'm really, really over this. It's midnight here and I'm just torturing myself by watching this crap.
End of the Top of the 8th - Dodgers 9, Cubs 1
11:13PM Central - I have the feeling that the city of Chicago will be grouchy tomorrow. I can't say that I blame them.
The Cubs are apparently trying to end this ugly game quickly. There isn't much of a spark in the game tonight.
I have a feeling, however, that they will win on Saturday. Why do I feel that way? Because they've almost certainly - keyword, almost - lost this series. The pressure's off.
End of the 8th - Dodgers 9, Cubs 1
11:22PM Central - Denton says, "anybody who doesn't believe there is a real curse right now is insane." Yeah, Denton. There's a curse. There are mystical, evil powers in the world, and they focus on things like baseball. If there were such things as curses, and it was as easy as yelling up into the sky after being denied entrance to a ballgame, then everybody would be cursed all the time and we'd all be in a hell of a mess.
Speaking of messes, Theriot completed the circle. A throwing error gives one to every Cubs infielder. Lovely. The Dodgers score again. I guess it's easier to blame a goat than the mentality of the guys who are playing, who have obviously collapsed under the ridiculous pressure that they're under.
Blame blame blame, Denton. If anybody is responsible, it's the players. I know, it's a shocking idea.
End of the Top of the 9th - Dodgers 10, Cubs 1
Once the pressure was off, the Cubs managed to score some runs in the 9th. Doubles by Lee and DeRosa, cushioning a Ramirez single, finally - finally - made it seem as though the Cubs could actually produce.
The Dodgers turned to Broxton, who promptly walked Felix Pie on 5 pitches before getting the first out of the inning by forcing Soto into hitting a sharp liner to second. Broxton then struck out Fukudome looking on, quite frankly, a pitch outside of the strike zone, although Kosuke should probably have swung defensively.
And then, to add insult to injury, Broxton struck out Ward on a pitch that was both low and inside.
A game recap will come in the morning. But for those of you who are wondering, I'll be taking a somewhat more lax approach to anybody who preaches doom and gloom, if only because the odds of a 3 game comeback are very, very thin.
5:31PM Central Time - Welcome to the first entry of tonight's blogcast! They just started the feed of the broadcast, consisting of Tony Gwynn, Ron Darling, and whichever schmuck that other guy is. It took That Other Guy literally less than 10 seconds to remind us that the Cubs haven't won a World Series in 100 years. I'll try to keep a tally of how often they bring it up tonight. The next update will likely be after the top half of the 1st inning.
By the way - is it just me, or is Ryan Dempster living up to his Canadian heritage and growing a playoffs beard?
5:36PM Central - I lied. "The Cubs won 5 of 7 games against the Dodgers and swept them in Chicago, but that was before Ramirez joined LA. The Dodgers have a totally different lineup with Ramirez in there." Uh, no brainiac. The Dodgers have the same lineup, but with Manny Ramirez. It's not totally different.
5:44PM Central - Dempster strikes out Furcal, walks Martin on a close pitch that could have been a third strike, and then induces the dangerous Manny Ramirez to ground into an inning-ending double play. Goat Friend and KXNO broadcaster Jon Miller has noted all year long that Dempster is comfortable giving up the occasional walk due in part to his confidence in his stuff.
5:53PM Central - No thrills for the Cubs in this first inning. So much for my dream of Chicago busting it wide open right away. When C. saw Joe Torre, she said "I think that guy's in the mafia!" She said this even before she knew that he used to manage the Yankees for more than a decade.
5:57PM Central - Annoying Guy notes that the Cubs and Dodgers have played each other 2,024 times and are tied in the standings ... as if it matters in this series.
Dempster allows a leadoff walk. Stomach, a ball of nerves.
6:04PM Central - After allowing a leadoff walk, Dempster forces three pop flies to get out of the inning, no fuss no muss. Is it just me, or are Cub fans quiet and tentative tonight? I think that once the Cubs get their first lead of the series, Wrigley will get noisy.
6:10PM Central - DeRo is my hero! I've been saying all along that the Cubs would have good odds of winning if DeRosa could continue to produce. There are obviously still games to be played, but that's a great start.
Cubs 2, Dodgers 0.
Oh, and Lowe is now complaining about the umpire's strike zone. Ahhh yes. This is good.
6:14PM Central - With the 2nd inning over, the Cubs now have a 2 run lead. After Dempster got on, I thought for a second that Soriano was going to bury Lowe. I was sadly wrong.
End of 2nd inning, Cubs 2, Dodgers 0.
6:20PM Central - Bad tidings. My "right way" method of play tells me that walking the pitcher is a big no-no.
6:22PM Central - After walking Lowe, and building an 0-2 count to Furcal, Dempster lost him on 4 balls. Dempster needs a double play here, or risk facing Manny with... uh, many runners on. Larry comes out to give him words of encouragement, mostly consisting of "WTF?!"
6:26PM Central - Deep fly ball for out #2. With 2 outs and Manny up, even with Dempster's control issues, I throw Manny nothing he can hit. Never let their best hitter beat you.
6:31PM Central - Manny gets an infield hit to load the bases for Ethier. With a 1-1 count, he hits a slow, scary foul ball that's mere feet away from equalizing the game. Dempster with a full count, 31 pitches thrown already. I have to think he's going to be good for 110-115, but he might be done after 5 the way he's going. And a strike out! Phew! Poor Cub fans, this has got to be killing people!
If that just happened to the Cubs, my argument would be that they were now destined to lose. Wasting a bases loaded opportunity with a pitcher who's struggling to throw strikes rarely results in wins. Because the Cubs escaped the situation, I'm taking the "this is a scary game" approach and am worried that Dempster is a few bad pitches away from getting rocked.
End of the Top of the 3rd - Cubs 2, Dodgers 0
6:39PM Central - After Derrek Lee got on with only one out, his bad luck with the double play continues as Aramis grounds into one to end the inning. I missed Fukudome's first out of the inning, as I went upstairs to take some calcium as I am battling leg and shoulder cramps tonight, oddly enough.
End of the 3rd - Cubs 2, Dodgers 0; heart attack victims so far: 12
After a Soriano Hop gets the first out, the second comes with ease before Dempster surrenders a bloop hit. Still, this is a less stressful inning, as it ends with a harmless line-out.
End of the Top of the 4th - Cubs 2, Dodgers 0 - time to get some runs!
Geo Soto started the inning with a sharply hit lineout. He's going to start getting hits soon enough. Lowe then proceeds to strike out Edmonds, resulting in a DeRosa single without runners on. Apparently, Lowe is concerned that the guy with a bum leg will run on him, based on the throws to first. No matter, Theriot singles as well, giving Dempster a rare opportunity to put the game out of reach with a 3 run homer. C. says "bunting is stupid. It should be disbanded." I say, "It's not an organization, they can't disband it." Alas, Dempster strikes out.
End of the 4th - Cubs 2, Dodgers 0
7:02PM Central - Dear Ryan Dempster, seriously, this walks crap has got to stop. I know, it's the playoffs, and you're not used to being there, but c'mon! You're killing me! P.S. You can make it up to me by forcing Russell Martin into a double play.
P.P.S. 3-0. STOP IT! Bad Dempster!
7:05PM Central - Fine, we'll take a fly out. C. again: "Doesn't he (Ramirez) realize he looks stupid with all that crap on his hat?"
As we gape at the crazy lady with the Cubs Santa hat (...I've got one), Dempster brings it to a full count. The know-nothing broadcasters think that Dempster's problems are that he's been too excited, but they might have a point. I may be wrong about Clownsevelt being just idiot enough to do well. And he walks Ramirez, but I'm ok with that. As I've said a million times - never let their best hitter beat you. Ron Darling with the random line about how, if you work real hard, it just might pay off in October. ...okaaaaay.
Dempster walks the bases loaded and Larry comes out to have words with the Wild One. Dempster is now over 100 pitches, it doesn't look like he'll get past the 6th if he even gets out of the 5th. Not cool.
7:14 - Grand Slam by Loney. See you later, Ryan Dempster.
Not that I need to say this, but you can't give a team so many chances as Dempster's given the Dodgers. I really thought he had the right mentality to be a game one starter ... here's to hoping that his next outing is a better one, but he's got to be feeling down about himself.
Marshall comes out to get the Cubs out of the inning. Anybody else think Dempster should shave the beard?
7:20PM Central - Big breaking strikeout by Marshall to end that brutal 5th inning. Just one thing to keep you guys up, if you're up at all - the Cubs have a pretty good offense, too.
End of the Top of the 5th - Dodgers 4, Cubs 2
After a Soriano strikeout (to the boos of many), Fooky rocketed a ball off the shin of Casey Blake, giving D.Lee a chance to ground into a double play. Which he promptly does. Figures.
End of the 5th - Dodgers 4, Cubs 2
7:32 Central - So, here's the good news. Marshall is an underrated reliever and despite the pecimism and negativity that is running rampant in Cub fans everywhere, this team is fully capable of coming from behind and winning.
Here's the bad news - if the Cubs don't grab a lead shortly, Lou is going to turn to Cotts and Howry and save Marmol and Samardzija for another night.
7:38 Central - After getting an out and then walking Lowe, Marshall buckled down and escaped. Like I said, underrated.
Marquis - not Cotts nor Howry, but not any better, either - is warming up in the pen. Lou is obviously saving his horses for another day, so if the Cubs want to optimize their chances of coming back, winning, and cementing their destiny, they're going to need to take it to Lowe this inning.
End fo the Top of the 6th - Dodgers 4, Cubs 2 - Lowe is at 80 pitches. Considering how dangerous the Dodger pen is, they need to work him.
7:47PM Central - Minor problem. The Cubs are taking the fastballs and swinging at the breaking pitches. I'd like to see them be a little more aggressive but they need to stop sitting on the right pitches.
DeRo flies out to end the inning with A-Ram on third. Time is running out, kids. Marquis to the ... rescue?
End of the 6th - Dodgers 4, Cubs 2
7:54PM Central - Apparently Manny was really determined to hit a homerun. Can't really blame Marshall for that one, it wasn't exactly a juicy pitch.
Dodgers 5, Cubs 2
7:58PM Central - Idiot Broadcaster Man says Marshall made a "mistake" to Ramirez, although I would argue that a breaking pitch hit at the batter's ankles doesn't really qualify. Apart from the low-blow homer, Marshall had a good inning. The Cubs are now 6 outs away from losing Game 1.
I realize nobody is really thinking of it like this, but let's look at this clinically: if the Cubs were going to lose this game because of the Grand Slam, then a Manny Ramirez homerun is essentially pointless. Might as well let him hit it when it doesn't matter so much, right?
End of the Top of the 7th - Dodgers 5, Cubs 2, Drunken, Dejected Cub Fans: 455,093
8 Central - Idiot Announcer Man keeps talking about how quiet the ballpark is tonight, contrasting it with last night's celebration when the White Sox clinched. The thing is, I don't think he's actually clever enough to be implying that the Sox are the better fans - I think he thinks that the city shares the teams equally. He also just mentioned the 100 year drought again.
Sori, Fukki, and before them Theriot all fail to deliver. Fontenot is left a sad participant on the basebaths. Now, before people start jumping down the throat of the Fonz, I will remind you that he hit what would've been a World Series winning homer had the D-Backs not worked some magic a while back against Rivera. His bat will come around.
End of the 7th - Dodgers 5, Cubs 2. 6 Outs to Go
8:14PM Central - Leadoff triple against the rookie Samardzija. Idiot Announcer Guy, with the count 2-2, "Samardzija is struggling right now." ...No, he's trying to keep the ball away from the batter.
Dodgers 6, Cubs 2. Let them tack it on tonight. Get 'em tomorrow.
8:19PM Central - Samardoenelokdana forces a double play and a deep, deeeeep pop out to end the inning. This game can't end fast enough for me.
Dodgers 6, Cubs 2.
8:23PM Central - It would be very unCub-like for somebody to hit a granny this inning. I'm just pointing that out.
8:31PM Central - So, Derrek Lee hit what would've been another double play ball, had somebody been on base. Aramis smacked a deep out to right field, and Geo Soto continued to go 0-for-the-game, but only because he drew a walk. Jim Edmonds almost had a heroic moment, but was foiled by a foot of foul territory in left and the incoming wind in center. If he didn't get so much air on it, that ball probably would have left the park.
I can really see how easy it would be to feel negatively right now. I mean, cripes, this is exactly what we didn't want to happen. In a series where momentum is essential, the Cubs have lost theirs tonight. I'll save the commentary for the post-game, though.
End of the 8th inning, Dodgers 6, Cubs 2.
8:35PM Central - Big homer by Russ Martin. Hey, I'll use the same mindset I would've used had this been the Cubs ripping apart the Dodgers - it always seems that when a team scores a ton of runs one night, they have trouble scoring anything the next night. So, I say again: Dodgers, run it up.
Dodgers 7, Cubs 2
8:41PM Central - Marquis in mop-up surrenders a run and then escapes the inning. Torre is now turning to ... Greg Maddux?
I take it back. Go get 'em, Cubs. Club the Mad Dog.
End of the Top of the 9th - Dodgers 7, Cubs 2
After DeRosa grounded out to start the 9th inning, Theriot hustled his way to first in a close call. Had Greg actually managed to step on first, Theriot would probably have been out. Ward then grounded out to first, and with 2 outs the Fonz stepped up against The Old Man and popped out ... to first. Seriously, I think Greg was toying with them.
Game over, a post game recap will come.
Dodgers 7, Cubs 2
Jason has already done this, but I wanted to look even further in depth at the upcoming roster for the NLDS against the Dodgers. But before I get too deep into it, let's address something...
The general consensus that I've seen in the past few days has been fear mixed with panic. Now that the playoffs are here, everybody is nervous for the Cubs. Some people are particularly disturbed by the first round opponent - the "D" in Dodgers stands for "dangerous," and the potent combo of ex Red Sox Lowe and Ramirez have some Cub fans quivering in their boots. Don't get me wrong, I'm nervous too, although I think most of my anxiety is for it to start. The two days is killing me. But, while the Mets were perhaps more vulnerable than the Dodgers due to their numerous injuries, let's keep in mind the following points:
- The Cubs beat the Dodgers in the season series
- The Dodgers are entering the playoffs with 14 more losses than the Cubs, and that's in a division drastically weaker than the NL Central
- If the Cubs can't beat the 84-win Dodgers, then they don't deserve to get to the World Series, and, lastly ...
- How do you think Dodger fans are feeling about meeting the Cubs right now? If you thought you were nervous, you should see what they are saying.
Anyway. There remains some degree of speculation as to what the playoff roster will consist of. Lou apparently met with Hendry earlier today, but nothing has been announced since that point. However, there are certainly some likely candidates, and I will attempt to clinically and fairly evaluate the Cubs post season talent.
Ryan Dempster - The Game One starter. Strengths: Gives home field advantage a new meaning, having gone 14-3 in the friendly confines this season. Confident about his stuff. Primarily throws fastballs, and his key secondary pitch is the slider. Knows how to perform magic tricks. Weaknesses: throws a few too many balls, although it didn't effect him in the regular season when he walked 76 in 206.2 innings. Melts like a hot tub of butter with a runner on third (teams are batting .333 against him in that scenario). Still banned from Vegas due to That Incident With the Hooker.
Carlos Zambrano - Game Two starter. Strengths: Undeniable no-hit stuff. Is a fierce competitor who would pitch with a knife in his shoulder if he had to. Carries within him a rage as hot as a fiery inferno. Swings that bat better than perhaps any pitcher in baseball. Weaknesses: Inconstancy. Despite throwing a no-hitter earlier this month, Carlos has a 7.08 ERA in September and a 5.80 ERA since the All Star Break. Is primarily a fastball pitcher, and has had trouble locating pitches and maintaining velocity in the past 2 months.
Rich Harden - Game Three starter. Strengths: Dominating stuff. Teams are batting .183 off of Harden this year. Great strikeout ability, has 181 k's in 148 innings of work. Perhaps the best #3 starter on any team in the playoffs this season - and that's even if Josh Beckett pitches Game 3 for the Red Sox. Weaknesses: Arm issues. Has missed time throughout the season and in past seasons due to problems with his delivery. If he has reached his expiration date for the '08 season, it may be problematic for the Cubs.
Ted Lilly - Game Four starter. Strengths: Mentally tough. Capable of being a slump-buster (not in the Mark Grace sense). Can dominate a game. Keeps the body parts of gutted opponents in a freezer in his basement. Weaknesses: Currently under investigation by the FBI for the mysterious Green Creek murders. Occasionally gets pummeled by opponents. Has only thrown 200 or more innings twice in his career; this year and the last.
Kerry Wood - closer. Strengths: Dominating strikeout stuff. Has developed a closer's mentality during the season. Weaknesses: Developed a case of Rod Beckitis during the month of September. Has a September ERA of 7.45, but his post All Star Break ERA is 3.02. Scares the crap out of me when he lets runners on in close situations.
Carlos Marmol - set-up man. Strengths: Unbelievably dominating stuff. After having one of the ugliest month-long-spans in recent memory, buckled down and allowed only 5 earned runs in 34 innings of work after the All Star Break. Weaknesses: Unproven in the post season. While dominating, has completely fallen off in the past. Looks like the dramatic gopher when he prepares to go into his delivery. Big ears.
Jeff Smardzija - 7th inning man. Strengths: Good stuff. Able to strike out tall batters in a single bound. Has played in Big Game Situations in the past as a TE for Notre Dame. Weaknesses: A rookie. May be used to big games, but probably is not used to being in a position to determine complete success or failure. Sometimes suffers from a lack of control.
Sean Marshall - 1st Lefty Specialist. Strengths: Reliable. Has a 2.81 ERA as a reliever. Weaknesses: Not really good against left handed hitters. Righties are batting .229 against Marshall, lefties are batting .273.
Neal Cotts - 2nd Lefty Specialist. Strengths: Is left handed. Weaknesses: Totally unreliable. Lefties are hitting as well against him as righties (.269/.263). Under the delusion that he may somehow win World Series MVP. Used to pitch for the White Sox.
Bob Howry - Long Inning Specialist. Strengths: ... Weaknesses: Human gas can. Has given up 12 homeruns - as a relief pitcher. Post All Star ERA of 6.47. Incapable of producing real tears of emotion.
Jason Marquis - other Long Inning Specialist. Strengths: Easy to make fun of due to his last name. Capable of eating up innings in case of route. Shockingly may be one of the best #5 pitchers in baseball. Weaknesses: Ultimately not worth the money he's being paid. Unreliable in clutch situations. Not used to pitching in relief.
The Starting Lineup:
Geovany Soto - Catcher. Strengths: Calls a great game. Hits the ball well. Shows good plate discipline, especially for a rookie. Can hit the ball a mile. Weaknesses: Sore hand may limit playing time. Looks like a glam-rock star.
Derrek Lee - First Base. Strengths: Solid defensive first baseman. Good overall offensive game. Still able to steal an occasional base. Weaknesses: Hit into an absurd number of double plays this season - is it a fluke, or is it him? Loss of power in the second half. Sometimes grows a very scruffy beard which, according to my fiancee, detracts from his hotness.
Mike Fontenot - Second Base. Strengths: Has taken a surprisingly solid approach to hitting this year. High SWP Factor (Scrappy White Player). Is batting .323 with runners in scoring position. Weaknesses: All the heart in the world won't make up for limited range defensively. Is short enough to play a hobbit.
Aramis Ramirez - Third Base. Strengths: If you Google "Aramis Ramirez clutch homerun" and look through the images, while there may be many pictures few will be duplicates. (That's a long-winded way of saying Moy Clutch.) Best Cubs third baseman since Ron Santo. Defensively better than his reputation suggests. Weaknesses: Looks like Charles Barkley. Supports cock fighting, which means that an animal lover will bean him sooner or later. Can go into abysmal slumps that never seem to end.
Ryan Theriot - Short Stop. Strengths: Good singles hitter. Gets on base often (.387 OBP this year). High SWP Factor. Is a .368 hitter in the leadoff spot. Weaknesses: Lacks in slugging. Gets caught stealing waaaay too often. Defensively inadequate (just ask Colin). Cries when eating spicy Cajun food.
Alfonso Soriano - Left Field. Strengths: Phenomenal hitter. Cannon-arm in left field. A game-changer with his bat. Is loved by the ladies. Weaknesses: Defensively shaky. Has suffered a series of leg injuries the last couple of years. Probably not the most ideal leadoff hitter, but is perceived as being psychologically fragile.
Jim Edmonds - Center Field. Strengths: Donates large sums to animal shelters. Still capable of making big plays defensively. A still-surprisingly good power hitter. Bad mouths the Cardinals organization. Weaknesses: Old and infirm. Used to play for the Cardinals. Started out well with the Cubs, but has slowed down since the All Star Break, batting only .232 but with 10 homers. Has ulterior motives for his support of animal shelters.
Mark DeRosa - Right Field. Strengths: Versatile; can play multiple positions. Disciplined at the plate, and has shown the ability to hit epic homeruns. Because of his last name, allows for wordplay involving the word "Hero" - aka "DeRo is my Hero." Weaknesses: A jack of many trades, a master of none, DeRosa won't be winning a Gold Glove any time soon. May be playing hurt. Is very streaky - either rips the cover off of the baseball, or misses it all together.
The Bench -
Henry Blanco - Catcher. Strengths: A legend in Venezuela. Capable of intimidating even Carlos Zambrano. Prison tats = intimidating. Has a .292 AVG off the bench. Weaknesses - May or may not be playing with an artificial spine. Looks as though he has a bit of a mullet.
Darryle Ward - First base/outfield. Strengths: Capable of using his large butt as a flotation device. Has long experience as a successful pinch hitter. Hit a walk-off homerun against the Marlins. Weaknesses: Probably should have retired already. Inconsistent offensively this year. Hasn't done a whole lot with the bat.
Ronny Cedeno - Middle Infield. Strengths: Versatile; able to play two key positions. Weaknesses: Unreliable in big moments - think Alex Gonzalez in Game Six. Should be nowhere near a clutch situation while holding a baseball bat, regardless of early bases-loaded success. When he enters a game along with Bob Howry, causes great fear in the hearts of Cub fans everywhere.
Reed Johnson - Outfield. Strengths: Full SWP Factor. Solid batting average - .303 on the season. Can play all outfield positions. Batting .364 with runners on, and .556 (5 for 9) with the bases loaded. Weaknesses: Poor choice in facial hair.
Kosuke Fukudome - Outfield. Strengths: Can curse on television in Japanese and get away with it. Great plate discipline. Actually understands what Hiro and Ando say. Outstanding glove in both right and center field. Weaknesses: Outside fastballs, 'nuff said. Has lost all consistency as a hitter.
Felix Pie/Micah Hoffpauir - Outfield. (One of these guys will make the squad, but which one?) Strengths: Pie: good defensive skills, speedy, loves to win. Hoff: Epic power-hitting skills*, solid pinch hitter. Weaknesses: Pie: unable to deliver offensively so far in 260 career at bats (although he's batting .300 since he was called up in Sept). Hoff: not really an outfielder at all, but forced to play there because he'll never replace Derrek Lee at first base.
(*Against Pedro Martinez only)
Overall - A solid team. The Dodgers apparently have a better bench than the Cubs, but I fail to see how. The Cubs bench, Ward excepted, appears to be defensively reliable and even has the ability to deliver the occassional blow via the bat. Not to mention the Cubs have additionally talented pinch hitting help in guys like Carlos Zambrano, who hefts a mighty stick.
We'll take a closer look at the Dodgers tomorrow. I promise it'll be completely, totally unbiased. Really. ::snicker::
We're just a few hours away from the final game of the baseball season. I've been feeling particularly nostalgic this weekend, thinking back on my 2004 trip to New York City where I watched the Cubs lose two crushing games against the Mets. Believe it or not, it was my first trip ever into New York town, and it has remained my last to this point.
In many ways, the '04 Cubs were on paper the best team we've seen. They had a tremendous starting rotation, the offense was ridiculously solid, but there were cracks at the seems that became increasingly visible as the year progressed. In particular, the poor defensive fundamentals and Dusty Baker's abuse of his young pitchers torpedoed that team.
The '08 Cubs, however, are on a different level. With 97 wins, they're the winningest Cubs team ever since they went to a 162 game schedule. More impressively, they did it in a division in which the 4th place team would be playoff bound if they were in the western division. Imagine how many games the Cubs would've won in a division like Anaheim's.
I'm already anxious about What Comes Next. The Cubs will either play the Mets or the Dodgers, and while they've played well against both teams, let's not forget one simple tenet: any squad that makes the playoffs is already some kind of champion. Nothing is easy from here on out. But an 11-game winning streak would be pretty cool.
There will be a few minor things we're going to do differently starting in October. And as you are reading this right now, so are my co-writers and web designer, who are all saying the same thing: "what the hell is he talking about?"
First, the Zambrano Meter has pretty much topped out for the year, so I will be making a new one - the goatriders.org 11-Win Playoff Zambran-0-Meter. Unlike the regular season's 120-win Meter, this one has a chance of being filled.
Second, I don't know how well it'll work, but I plan on game-casting the first game of the NLDS. I welcome all of you to join me not in the shout box but in the comments section of the blog. It's nothing I've really ever done before. Maybe the Cubs will get blown out by a ton of runs and, in an act of total frustration, I will give up on the gamecast. Maybe I'll get distracted by food and will forget to post. Who knows? But I welcome you all to watch the game with me. It should be a nerve-wracking time.