Posted by sportsmaven on September 25, 2008
Hardly a day goes by before someone spouts an opinion about who our beloved Chicago Cubs should or should not want to play in the playoffs. Just this evening, I had a conversation with my wife, her cousin, and a couple of other well informed sports theorists on the merits of each team the Cubs may have to face in the upcoming playoffs.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Like many others, I was initially caught up in the popular debate. I originally wanted the Cubs to face the New York Mets in the NLDS, as the Mets provide a very favorable matchup for the Cubs. Anyone, but the Philadelphia Phillies, I thought. After the Cubs, the Phillies were the most complete team in the NL this season and played the Cubs very tough this season. Then I jumped on the Los Angeles Dodgers bandwagon, Manny Ramirez included. The Dodgers were less imposing, offensively challenged, and in the weakest division in Major League Baseball, the good old National League West division. Ripe for the picking.
The Milwaukee Brewers? Won’t have to even think about facing the Brewers until the NLCS, that is if they secure the NL Wildcard. That bullpen, the streaky offense, did the Brewers ride CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets into the ground in their push to the playoffs?
Amidst the thinking of the various scenarios and how they would potentially play out, another scenario popped into my little head, like a great rush of fresh air. It seemed almost too simple to comprehend, as though simplicity eliminated the potential of this concept to be with merit.
Really, it doesn’t matter who the Cubs play in the playoffs. There are no Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Nationals in the playoffs. Every team that makes the playoffs is an excellent quality team. Each playoff team has it’s flaws, some more than others. The playoffs are seldom about the best team during the season, but rather, the team playing the best when the playoffs happen to be played. It’s a crapshoot – the team with the hot hand has the best chance of going all the way, first to win 11games wins it all. It means that the Brewers or Dodgers have as good a chance as the Cubs in winning a World Series. It means that the Chicago White Sox or Minnesota Twins have as good a chance to win it all as the Tampa Bay Rays or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Network analysts, newspaper sports columnists, Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal and other baseball talking heads get paid to spin their most favorable matchups for each playoff team, to analyze favorites and make predictions based on the results of a 162 game season. It’s even vogue to pick a dark horse, playing on past runs of underdog wildcard teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 83 games en route to a unlikely World Championship in 2006 over a 95 win Detroit Tigers team.
The team that will win the 2008 World Series will be the team that plays unified team baseball, puts it all together at the right time, catches lightning in a bottle to ride a hot streak that lasts for a month, a team that powers through the 11 wins necessary to be called World Champions. Destiny has already chosen the 2008 World Series Champion. The only question remaining is if destiny has chosen the Chicago Cubs, or do the Cubs have the balls and heart to go out and get their destiny? Come October 30th, we’ll all know the answer to that question.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Ben Sheets, CC Sabathia, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, destiny, Detroit Tigers, Ken Rosenthal, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Major League Baseball, Manny Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, National League, New York Mets, NLCS, NLDS, Peter Gammons, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals, World Series | 2 Comments »
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)
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.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Bobby Howry, Carlos Zambrano, Chad Gaudin, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Jeff Samardzija, Milwaukee Brewers, Neal Cotts, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall, Steve Stone | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on August 6, 2007
So, Chicago Cubs fans, have we seen this before? The Cubs got out of the gate playing horrible baseball this season, topped off by an on the air dugout brawl between their best pitcher (Carlos Zambrano) and their since departed emotional catcher (Michael Barrett), followed the next day by a tirade by their new manager, Lou Piniella, over a play that was called correctly. All this vaulted the Cubs from a low-water mark of 8 games under .500 to a high water mark of 8 game over .500 in the span of 2 months to contend in the weak NL Central division. Just when the tide is turning, the Cubs become human again, going 3-4 against the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, and now this.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
It appears that OF Alfonso Soriano will miss 2-4 weeks due to a strained quad muscle, the same injury that sidelined 3B Aramis Ramirez for the last 5 weeks of the season in 2005. Furthermore, the back of our rotation, needing to step up significantly, appears to be stepping BACKWARDS with horrible performances. RP Kerry Wood saw his first action since being reactivated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday and looked impressive, striking out
Last night’s game was a prime example — SP Jason Marquis wasn’t sharp again, giving up 5 earned runs on 9 hits (including 4 doubles) and 3 walks. The Cubs were still in the game until the suddenly flammable RP Will Ohman came in and put the game out of reach with his horrid performance. The New York Mets are clearly the best team in the National League. That was a proven point in this weekend’s series. You can’t give a team like the Mets 23 baserunners and expect to win. You can’t walk 7 guys and expect to win. You can’t lose arguably your best hitter for a month and expect to win. You can’t have your #3, 4, and 5 starters go less than 5 innings and expect to win. You can’t have your bullpen lefty relievers take close games and put them out of reach and expect to win.
The Cubs have 51 games left in the regular season. Do they compete despite the loss of Soriano, or do they fold in August like many a past Cubs team? Only time will tell, but I do know one thing, history is certainly not on the Cubs side…..
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
On another note, the Sports Maven does want to congratulate Mets P Tom Glavine on his 300th victory last night. Tom Glavine is surely the best left handed pitcher of my generation, and it was a treat to watch him pitch another masterful game. Not only is he an excellent pitcher, he is also one of the game’s all around good guys. Congratulations, Tom Glavine!
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Kerry Wood, Lou Piniella, Michael Barrett, National League, New York Mets, NL Central Division, Philadelphia Phillies, Tom Glavine, Will Ohman | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on July 30, 2007
Well, who said the Chicago Cubs could win them all? With ESPN in the house at Wrigley Field (including Erin Andrews in the Wrigley Field scoreboard) and only 4 MLB games on the slate for tonight, the Cubs had a chance to tie the idle Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the suddenly competitive NL Central race, but they ran into a buzzsaw named Cole Hamels and lost 4-1 tonight to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cubs are still a game out of first, but lost a golden chance to move into a tie with the Milwaukee Brewers, who have been at the top of the standings for most of the season.
(AP Photo/Jerry Lai)
The amazing thing about tonight’s loss is the sense that even though the Cubs lost, they are still making the move to the top of the division standings. Most years, one loss would prompt pending disaster from the Wrigleyville faithful, but not tonight, not this team, not this season. Even the lovely Erin Andrews was sporting a “It’s Gonna Happen” t-shirt while hanging in the Wrigley Field scoreboard during the game.
So July is ending and August begins the push to the playoffs. Do the Cubs have enough to get them there? Do they make a trade? I am thinking the Cubs stand pat, get RP Kerry Wood back in the bullpen, and make their run to the division title. There is a sense of confidence on this Cubs team that I have never seen before. It is time…..It’s Gonna Happen, you wait and see.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Chicago Cubs, Cole Hamels, Erin Andrews, ESPN, Kerry Wood, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, NL Central Division, Philadelphia Phillies, Wrigley Field | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on January 29, 2007
This weekend was the 15th Annual SoxFest Fan Convention at the Palmer House Hyatt in downtown Chicago. The timing was mixed for Chicago White Sox fans, as it just so happens that the convention fell on the weekend prior to Super Bowl XLI, and the Chicago Bears just happen to be playing in that Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years. Chicago Cubs fans know how that goes with the last two seasons of Bears playoff home games coinciding with the Cubs Convention, but fortunately, the week is slow for Super Bowl news.
The big news out of SoxFest was GM Kenny Williams inadvertent torching of P Mark Buehrle’s chances of being with the White Sox past the ’07 season. The White Sox made plenty of news this off-season by trading P Freddie Garcia to the Philadelphia Phillies for P Gavin Floyd and P Gio Gonzalez, a move I liked, by the way. I felt the more sketchy move was trading P Brandon McCarthy to the Texas Rangers for P John Danks and P Nick Masset. I felt McCarthy was the young pitcher that Williams was using to build his strategy of post-title rebuilding to stave off the hyper inflation of pitcher salaries. This is a HUGE roll of the dice with the payoff being very marginal, at best.
Regardless, if the White Sox are to have a chance to get back to the post-season and compete for a World Series title, I predict 5 key needs/things will have to happen. They are:
1. Bullpen needs to be way more solid. Last year’s bullpen was a bit of a mess, especially in left handed relief. The White Sox had a hard time bridging the gap to closer Bobby Jenks. LHP Matt Thornton was a terrific surprise for the White Sox, but P Neal Cotts (since traded to the Chicago Cubs) was a disaster. The White Sox bullpen is now filled with power arms from both sides with the addition of RHP David Aardsma (from the Cubs trade), LHP Andrew Sisco, and late season pick up RHP Mike MacDougal. Add LHP Boone Logan into that mix and there are a lot of power arms that can really bring it. If this group can somehow find the consistency that was non-existent last season, this will put the White Sox worlds ahead of where they were last season.
2. Fill the hole in CF — CF Brian Anderson was a major disappointment last season. He will be the first to admit that. That being said, there is no way the White Sox can go into the 2007 season with that same kind of hole in their lineup. Anderson actually caused two holes, as his hitting in the 8/9 spot was virtually an automatic out in a strong White Sox lineup and caused power hitting 2B Tadahito Iguchi to have to hit in the #2 spot, which he is able, but would be much better suited to hit lower in the order. I’m very encouraged by the signing of OF Darrin Erstad and the developement of OF’s Jerry Owens and Josh Fields. Brian Anderson has a fight on his hands this season. He could very well end up from the starting CF in Chicago to starting CF in Charlotte.
3. Buehrle needs to come back in form, need strong seasons from the #4/#5 starters — P Mark Buehrle needs to rebound from a career worst 12-13 4.99 ERA season to be the typical Mark Buehrle we are used to seeing. P Javier Vasquez finished the season on a strong note, but was essentially a 5 inning pitcher for most of the season. The since departed P Freddy Garcia had an up and down season, but finished very strong. (although his fastball lost some life this past season) The struggles of the starting rotation only highlighted the difficulties in the bullpen, as they were forced to pitch more in bad/ineffective/short outings by starters Buehrle/Garcia/Vasquez. The bottom of the rotation is now new, with Vasquez holding down the #4 spot in the rotation, and the #5 that could be Gavin Floyd or Charlie Haeger. Either way, the bottom of the order plus Buehrle need to step it up bigtime for the White Sox to compete.
4. Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko need to keep up with the big bats — otherwise, the White Sox have no chance. Any significant drop in one or two of the Big 3 will spell doom for the White Sox. The White Sox have an almost perfect balanced lineup, power hitters and avg./contact hitters, hitters with speed, and fairly good lefty/righty balance. The Big 3 keeps producing, the White Sox are in the race. If not, will be a long, grinder season that won’t be pretty.
5. Develop a replacement for LF Scott Podsednik — I am not a big Scott Podsednik fan. I thought in 2005, he did what he needed to to ignite the White Sox and in the playoffs he was huge, but 2006 really showed that he and Anderson were the weak links in an otherwise formidible White Sox lineup. Now, Scottie Pods starts out 2007 behind the 8-ball with groin surgery. The White Sox need an effective leadoff hitter badly and Scottie Pods is not the answer…..another season like ’06 and the White Sox find more trouble.
The White Sox lived off of the 2005 World Series last season, but things change quickly. The intoxication of the first World Series victory in 88 years is nearly worn off and the construction on the Dan Ryan expressway is a year over schedule, so the White Sox have some work to do to get even close to last year’s attendance record. Do all 5 above, the White Sox are in the playoffs. Anything less, the AL Central is too strong and the White Sox will find themselves on the outside looking in.
Posted in Chicago White Sox | Tagged: Andrew Sisco, Bobby Jenks, Boone Logan, Brandon McCarthy, Brian Anderson, Charlie Haeger, Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Darrin Erstad, David Aardsma, Freddy Garcia, Gavin Floyd, Gio Gonzalez, Jermaine Dye, Jerry Owens, Jim Thome, John Danks, Josh Fields, Kenny Williams, Mark Buehrle, Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal, Neal Cotts, Nick Masset, Paul Konerko, Philadelphia Phillies, Scott Podsednik, Super Bowl XLI, Tadahito Iguchi, Texas Rangers | 2 Comments »