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Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Zambrano’

Chicago Cubs Begin Their Struggling Season

Posted by sportsmaven on May 1, 2009

In comparison to 2008, the 2009 season has been brutally unkind to the Chicago Cubs.  From top to bottom of the organization, from the ballpark workers to the fans, the fuzzy lovefest that was 2008 has been replaced by a season that has all the markings of struggle written all over the brown, yet to grow ivy outfield walls.

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

The Cubs struggles seem to be set in motion during a devastating post season playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to close out what was then developing into a magical season of 2008.  As dominant as the Cubs were in winning 97 games in 2008, they were equally as feeble once the playoffs began.  The Dodgers sucked the life out of the Cubs, exposing every weakness and shutting down the most powerful NL lineup and battering around the league’s #3 pitching staff in a NLDS sweep.

In the off season, Cubs GM Jim Hendry, tried in earnest to make his team more flexible for manager Lou Piniella.  What he did was inadvertently neutered his two-time division championship team, cutting them off at the knees.  Like a mad scientist, Hendry first moved to clear his entire bullpen, short of his All-Star setup man, RHP Carlos Marmol.  Included in that purge was All-Star closer RHP Kerry Wood, who finally found a successful niche as a power closer.  Not that he didn’t need to purge most of that bullpen, but it’s unclear to me as I watch the Cubs struggle, why Wood, the heart and soul of the Cubs team and the most tenured of all Cubs players, leader on and off the field, was allowed to depart. Essentially, Hendry traded Wood for former Florida Marlins closer, RHP Kevin Gregg, a one-sided trade then, and even more magnified in view of this horrible start.

The other perplexing move was trading 2B Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians, replacing him with free-agent RF Milton Bradley.  All Bradley has done since signing a 3-year, $30M contract is injure his hamstring, get kicked out of his first game at Wrigley Field, bump an umpire while arguing, earning himself a 2-game suspension, which he appeals, all while needing to sit out at least 16 games due to that injury, incidentially, while not being added to the disabled list.

This is the type of flexibility that Hendry and Piniella wanted?  A further highlight about how “flexible” the 2009 Cubs roster is, C Geovanny Soto injures his throwing shoulder and has to sit out a few games to re-evaluate the injury.  While Soto is out, reserve C Koyie Hill filled in very capably, but because the Cubs don’t put Soto on the 15-day DL, they are forced to list 2B Aaron Miles and others as the backup catcher.

3B Aramis Ramirez has missed the last 11 games due to a calf injury, but the Cubs choose not to add him to the 15-day disabled list, instead forcing an out of position 2B Mike Fontenot to play third.  In last night’s game, when Piniella needed to pinch-hit for the left-handed hitting Fontenot, he needed to employ Hill to finish out the game at 3rd base!  Recently, 1B Derrek Lee missed time with a strained neck.  1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir covered Lee at 1B, pushing RHP Carlos Zambrano into the lefty pinch hitting role.  Some flexibility.  This is the flexibility that results in 14 errors and many other misplays from players playing out of position.

Not to mention the current mess the pitching staff is in right now, started by the shoddy bullpen performance out of the gate and now spreading to the once very promising performance of the starting rotation.  The Cubs bullpen mess begins with the release of  RHP Chad Gaudin a trade-off engineered to essentially keep Rule 5 RHP David Patton and  RHP Angel Guzman, a player who is out of minor league options.  Patton’s been regulary pounded, the highlight, giving up a grand slam to St. Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols in a recent 8-2 loss to the Cardinals last Saturday.  LHP Neal Cotts not only hasn’t been able to get anybody out, he has been a bases on balls machine, walking 6 batters in 5 innings.  The bullpen picture became even more muddled when Hendry was forced to release RHP Luis Vizcaino and his $3M contract (Vizcaino was picked up in a off-season trade with the Colorado Rockies for RHP Jason Marquis) to bring up power RHP Jeff Samardzjia, who probably should have been in the bullpen in the first place.  With both Marmol and Gregg struggling, RHP Aaron Heilman has been exposed and has been used too frequently, resulting in a bullpen that can’t be trusted to get anyone out at this point, much less protect any sort of a lead.

So after 21 games, what do we make of this Cubs team?  Apparently, the early showing is that the Cubs are a team that still appear to suffer from the hangover of last season’s crushing playoff sweep.  They also can’t stay healthy.  They are also a team that can’t hit, field, or pitch.  This is a team built to struggle, and struggle they will, and I predict, for the entire season.  This Cubs team might not have to worry about a 3rd straight playoff disappointment.

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Top 10 Moments In Chicago Sports In 2008

Posted by sportsmaven on January 17, 2009

The new year has already started and amidst the resolutions, fresh starts, diets, and new beginnings comes the ever reverent look back at the year that has passed.  The year 2008 was a banner year for Chicago sports, as three teams won their prospective division titles, and one, the Chicago Wolves won a championship.  There was good, bad, ugly, and everything in between for Chicago sports fans.  So, lets take a look back on the Top 10 Moments in Chicago Sports in 2008 (in no particular order):
Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears goal line stand against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 — The Chicago Bears were leading the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20, Eagles had first and goal from the Bears 4, 5:40 left in the game.  Eagles run RB Cornell Buckhalter off right tackle for 3 yards.  Second and goal was a handoff to FB Tony Hunt for no gain.  Third down was back to Buckhalter to the right for no gain.  Eagles call a time out and decide to go for it on 4th down.   Buckhalter again off left tackle, this time, stood up by RE Alex Brown of the Bears for no gain.  Game over.  Bears win.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Cubs RHP Carlos Zambrano throws no-hitter against the Houston Astros on Sept. 14th —  The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros waited two long days to find out where they would be playing their key late season series against each other.  Houston was being devestated by Hurricane Ike and MLB moved the Astros to “neutral” Miller Park in Milwaukee to face the Cubs.  Zambrano brought his “A” game with him to “Wrigley North”, shutting down the powerful Astros lineup, striking out CF Darrin Erstad swinging for the last out of the first Cubs no-hitter in 36 years.

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Cubs win back to back NL Central Division titles — The Cubs began the 2008 season with one of it’s goals to win the 2008 NL Central Division title, as well as seeking their first World Series appearance since 1945 and first World Championship since 1908.  Alas, the Cubs could only slay one 100 year drought, as they won an NL-best 97 games en route to the 2008 NL Central Division title for their  first back to back division titles since 1908.  A quick sweep in the NL Divisional Series by the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers dimmed what was to that point, a most magical season for the North Siders.

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

White Sox win 3 elimination games in a row to win the AL Central title — The Chicago White Sox looked dead in the water, losing  4 of their final 5 games to the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, coughing up a 2.5 game division lead and falling 1/2 game behind the Twins with one game to play.  The final game of the Cleveland series and the regular season was a must win game with Mark Buehrle on the bump, the Sox beat the Indians to force the Monday afternoon post-season makeup game against the Detroit Tigers.  The Sox win the makeup game against the Tigers, forcing a one game playoff game against the Twins for the AL Division title, this time, in Chicago.   The Sox, behind a masterpiece by LHP John Danks, beat the Twins 1-0 and claim the AL Central Division title, winning three elimination games in a row.

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

Chicago Bulls win the 1st pick in the NBA Draft and the right to select PG Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson had to work wonders to undo all the bad karma and decision-making by Bulls brass in the post-Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson era, but by sheer luck,  one of those bouncing ping-pong ball went red, and the Bulls, with a x% chance, landed the #1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft.  Around the same time, a young freshman PG from Chicago was leading his one-loss  Memphis Tigers team to the 2008 National Championship game against the Kansas Jayhawks.  The Jayhawks win the title, the young freshman forgoes his eligibility and declares eligible for the NBA Draft and the prodigal son returns a hero.

The City of Chicago becomes a finalist for host city for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games — Chicago survived the US bid process to emerge as the US entry for host of the 2016 Olympics.  Election Night provided the world a glimpse of what Chicago 2016 could be as Grant Park served as the world’s stage for President-Elect Barack Obama’s election night speech.  Chicago is President Obama’s hometown and can be in prime position to be named 2016 host, but it can’t rest on that momentum as concerns about finances, transportation infrastructure, and sports facilities still shroud Chicago’s Olympic bid chances.

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

The arrival of a young and resurgent Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, who finished  the 2007-08 season very strong and opened the 2008-09 season even stronger — the Chicago Blackhawks under owner Bill Wirtz became the city’s red headed stepchild of Chicago professional sports.  Even the minor league AHL hockey team, the Chicago Wolves, were outdrawing the Hawks in attendance.  Things couldn’t have been any lower, and then, Bill Wirtz died.  Bill’s son Rocky took the team over and his first move as team owner was to steal marketing genius John McDonough away from the Cubs, hiring McDonough as his new team president.  A change in coaches (Joel Quenneville in, Denis Savard out), a #1, and #3  draft pick later, youngsters C Jonathan Toews and RW Patrick Kane lead a marketing and on-ice resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks.  High point to date, a team best 9 game winning streak leading into the 2009 Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.  The game resulted in a loss for the Blackhawks in the standings, but was a HUGE win for the Hawks in prestige and heritage.  A vintage Original Six team is reborn.

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Bears hammer Indianapolis Colts on national TV in the season opener, marking the coming out party for Bears RB Matt Forte and ruining the home opening of the Colts new Lucas Oil Stadium — The Chicago Bears were playing on national television.  They were also playing the mighty Indianapolis Colts on the road in the Colts brand spanking new stadium.  The Bears have traditionally been nothing short of horrible in nationally televised night games and this was Sunday Night Football on NBC.  And QB Peyton Manning, coming off a knee injury, was planning on starting this game. The Bears were doomed, but fate forgot to mention that to this Bears team, lead by a resurgent defense and the nimble running of rookie RB Matt Forte, the only Bear to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his first ever game (123 yards), the Bears down the mighty Colts 29-13.

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

The University of Illinois football team plays in it’s first Rose Bowl since 1984 — In 2001, the University of Illinois football program was reaching it’s pinnacle capped by a Big Ten Conference Championship and an appearance in the 2002 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  Two short years later, the Illini hit rock bottom, going 1-11, eventually firing coach Ron Turner and hiring master recruiter Ron Zook as his replacement.  In year 3 of the rebuilding process, the Illini found themselves with a 9-4 record, stunning #1 Ohio State on the road in a 28-21 victory that propelled the team to it’s first Rose Bowl in 24 years.

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship, bringing a hockey title back to Chicago — The Chicago Wolves AHL hockey team beats the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2 bringing the Calder Cup back to Chicago.  It is the 4th title for the Wolves in their 14-year history.  Soon after, Wolves Coach John Anderson is promoted to coach the parent team, the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. The Wolves dip into a famous Chicago hockey family, tapping Don Granato as their new head coach.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Fighting Illini | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Chicago Cubs Playoff Baseball Takes Yet Another Cruel Turn

Posted by sportsmaven on October 1, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, this series is over.  That’s it, all up in smoke in 2 hours of bad baseball.  The Chicago Cubs were on the biggest of the biggest stage tonight.  Most everything has been going their way in what has been an amazing baseball season to this point.  What was needed was a Game 1 victory in the National League Division Series, to show the world what we have seen in Chicago for the past 6 months, but the Cubs came out flat, nervous, and scared, a virtual repeat of last season’s sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The Cubs suddenly have developed a severe case of the flop sweats.  From the outset of Game 1, the Cubs looked shell shocked, scared.  Looked as if they were pressing, the pressure of all the expectations, burdens of 100 years of fan expectations, on their shoulders.  The burdens of 100 years of failed Cubs teams to make up for.  They took that on the field with them tonight and played as though they wanted to wipe out 100 years of expectations in one failed swoop.

After the game, everyone looked completely stunned, in a state of shock, with no confidence.  From the tone and look on manager Lou Piniella’s face in his post-game interview, to the tentative, shaky answers the Cub players provided after tonight’s 7-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, from body language, tone of voice, not one bit of confidence oozed from anyone associated with the Cubs tonight.

This team looked defeated.  And this is why this series and the season will be over for the Cubs in 4 or 5 short days.  The Cubs have an 0-7 record in their last 7 playoff games, going back to the 2003 NLCS, and there are no discernable signs of this trend breaking any time soon.  And now, ironically, the season is in the very erratic hands of RHP Carlos Zambrano in a must win Game 2 tomorrow night.

Tonight’s Cubs team performance, and RHP Ryan Dempster in particular, reminded me of actor Albert Brooks in the 1987 hit movie “Broadcast News”.  Brooks plays an uber intelligent reporter named Aaron Altman.  Altman is a neurotic, socially repressed reporter who is craving for a chance to dance on the big stage of network news, the anchor desk of the prime time news cast.

He wants to anchor the prime time news show.  When all the regulars are attending the White House Correspondents Dinner, Altman is given his chance to star on the prime time evening news.  Altman is beyond smart, almost overqualified in many ways, but he craves just one opportunity to shine in the limelight.

When the camera light blinks on at the most crucial moment when newscast begins, Altman suddenly realizes the enormous magnitude of the moment and his perceived inadequacy, he gets the “deer in the headlights” look in his eyes.

As the newscast contunues, he begins profusely sweating, so bad that William Hurt’s character described it as “singing in the rain”.  An utter disaster.  This is what happened to Dempster and the Chicago Cubs tonight.

The baseball gods are very fickle at this point of the season.  They don’t care about destiny nor the burdens of 100 years of baseball futility.  They have no room for perceived entitlement, fans expectations, nor do they care what you did yesterday.  They don’t care about predestinations, or history.  They certainly don’t care about curses, billy goats, or pressure.  All they care about is baseball played today, played well, and with execution.  Today’s game.

Tomorrow night’s game is the most important of the season.  It is the season.  The short divisional series is the great equalizer in the baseball playoffs.  It’s where dreams, hard work, and grandiose expectations go to die.  The Chicago Cubs are in a must-win situation tomorrow night and in Game 3 in Los Angeles on Saturday.  Carlos Zambrano, lets see what you’ve got……

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Zambrano’s No, No Turns Into A No-No

Posted by sportsmaven on September 18, 2008

If you were one of the 95,000 people who were at Miller Park on Sunday night, you witnessed an event 36 years in the waiting.  Actually, I know only 23,000 attended the game, but by today, 95,000 people will claim to have seen Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter in person.  The Sports Maven was there in person to witness the latest magical moment in the 2008 season for the Chicago Cubs and the place was rocking!  It sounded like 95,000 people were in attendance.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The Hurricane Ike displaced Houston Astros were certainly there, although if you believe the reports, they were there physically, but their minds were in Houston and on their families.  Fair enough, but you had to play and due to the stubborn insistence from owner Drayton McLane, the Astros were forced to play in “Wrigley North” instead of a more neutral site in a not so favorable travel or scheduling situation.  No one to blame but Mr. McLane.

Now that the dust has settled from the Carlos Zambrano no-no, lets not overlook the dominance and historical significance of Big Z’s performance on this magical night:

  • 110 pitches, 73 strikes, 10 strikeouts
  • 8th Cubs no-hitter in history
  • 3rd Venezuelan to throw a no-hitter
  • 1st no-hitter in Miller Park history
  • 1st no hitter at a neutral site in major league history

Witnessing a no-hitter in person is nothing short of amazing.  Witnessing a Chicago Cubs no-hitter in person a year where the Cubs are breaking 70, 80, and 90 year old records is nothing short of spectacular.  Good things happen to those who believe, but great things happen to those who dare to dream….

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…But Even More Brutal To The Chicago Cubs

Posted by sportsmaven on September 10, 2008

South Siders, you think the Sox have it bad?  You haven’t seen the September 2008 version of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs entered September with the best record in baseball, a 4.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central Division standings, and a good shot to win 100 games for the first time since 1935.  The Cubs appeared to be the best team in the National League and arguably the best team in baseball.  Then came September, the most dreaded month for Cubs fans, especially when the Cubs are contending for post-season play.  The Cubs September schedule was already brutal, but mix in a slumping offense, a huge turn of injury fate for key Cubs pitchers, and the typical unusual Cubs karma of September, and the faith of Chicago Cubs fans is being shaken, stirred, and tested like never before.  The last 18 games will be the ride of a lifetime.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The MLB schedule makers have played a cruel joke on the Cubs this season by the looks of the September schedule. The Cubs have 16 road games (9 home games) and 22 of their final 25 games with teams that are 10 games over .500 or better, i.e. the teams that are chasing the Cubs.  This is the most difficult schedule for any of the contending teams in baseball for a team that until recently, struggles on the road.  The Houston Astros have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break and are quickly moving into wild card contention.  Could they be this season’s version of the Colorado Rockies?

The Cubs have played all season in baseball’s best division, the NL Central.  The Cubs have had the best record in baseball at key moments of the season.  The Brewers have the second best record in the NL behind the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals have been on the heels of the two division upstarts.  And now the surging Astros are putting pressure on all the division leaders with their remarkable run of 12 wins in their last 13 including a home sweep of the Cubs last week.  The Cubs still have 3 games to play in Houston, 2 more in St, Louis, 4 games against the New York Mets in Shea Stadium and 3 in Milwaukee to end the season.  The schedule couldn’t be any worse for the Cubs until adding strange and unusual injuries and the lack of offense in the last 10 days that is disturbing to say the least.

The schedule withstanding, the Cubs needed to enter September with a healthy roster to close out a run to the NL Central Division title that started on May 11th.  The position players appear to be healthy and ready to play, but the pitching is in disarray, due to untimely injuries to staff ace, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Rich Harden, and now RHP Chad Gaudin.  Zambrano, who historically fights ailments in August (his worst month of the season) provided Cubs management and fans a scare with a potential rotator cuff injury that cut his last start on Sept. 1st short.  After examination and an MRI, it appears the injury is inflammation of the shoulder muscle, a much lesser concern.  Zambrano is due to miss a turn in the rotation before making his next start on Sept. 13th in Houston.  Harden was being rested for two starts due to a tired arm.  Harden repeatedly told reporters that he is not injured and the Cubs are being extra cautious of his workload going into the post-season, but combined with the Zambrano scare and the timing of the precautionary moves, potentially upsets the Cubs rotation for a decisive final series against Milwaukee, or the first series of the post-season.

Adding to the injuries above is the very unusual injury of the glue to the Cubs bullpen, RHP Chad Gaudin.  The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Gaudin said he bruised his lower back in a fall away from the ballpark, apparently sometime between his Aug. 29 appearance against the  [Philadelphia] Phillies and the next morning when he got to the park. Initial medical tests revealed no serious damage, but Gaudin hasn’t been able to pitch since.  With Gaudin out, the Cubs bullpen has been shuffled, with LHP Sean Marshall moving into the rotation, RHP Jeff Samardzija moved into middle relief and LHP Neal Cotts the only left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. RHP Bobby Howry has been ineffective and for all intents and purposes, unusable in games, being hit hard virtually the entire season and risks being left off the 25 man playoff roster.  The pitching appears to be a mess right in the middle of the most important stretch of the season.

If that doesn’t scare you, how about the inconsistency of the Cubs offense?  The Cubs lead the NL in runs scored and are first in nearly every offensive category that matters (batting avg, runs, OBP, OPS, SLG, BB’s) but in their current stretch of losing, their offense has disappeared.  In their current 1-8 stretch, the offense has scored 3 or fewer runs 7 times.  In their last 8 losses, the Cubs have left 67 men on base, or an average of 8.3 runners per game.  They have also hit into a whopping 12 double plays in those 8 games, including 4 in one game against the Astros.  The Cubs have also lacked timely hitting, scoring well above their 5.29 runs per game average.

The scenario may seem doom and gloom to the pessimistic Cubs fans, and after 100 years of futility, the disasters of 1969, 1986, and close calls of 1998, 2003, and 2007 who would blame anyone if a bit of cynicism set into Cub Nation.  But consider this:  The Milwaukee Brewers, the team closest to the Cubs in the standings have picked up exactly 0 games in the standings during the 1-8 stretch.  The Astros have won 12 of 13 and are still 8.5 games behind the Cubs.  The Cubs are 8.5 games ahead of the 2nd place wild-card team (Philadelphia Phillies).  Even Steve Stone said on AM670 The Score this afternoon that the Cubs will make the playoffs, just a question of where.  Just my prediction — The Cubs finish the season 13-6 and win 99 games.  They win the NL Central Division title for the second year in a row.  Anything beyond that — your guess is as good as mine.

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