Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What Went Wrong?

The Cubs were a disappointment this year.
They were underachievers for a second consecutive year

So, what went wrong?
For what it's worth, here's my thoughts on the primary reasons for the failure of this years team.

1. No Closer: The Cubs started the season without a closer, the same problem that was a huge part of their failure in 2004. LaTroy is simply not an effective closer, and it took far to long for Dusty to stop using him in this role. I'd like to say that I was for Dempster from the beginning, but the truth is, I was for LaTroy, simply because he had the best stuff in that bullpen. Dempster had a fantastic year, but I still don't trust him. I've been convinced that he has the makeup, and that he can keep the ball down, but I think that his control issues are going to catch up to him, and that the Cubs would be wise to add a few more relievers capable of closing.

2. Top of the Order: It's pretty obvious, the cubs table setters were horrible this year. The cubs didn't have any great options for a leadoff hitter on the roster, but they did have guys better than Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez. Hairston, Walker, Murton and even Mike Barrett are all better suited to the top of the order than Corey and Neifi.

3. Nomar injury: It was predictable that Nomar would get hurt this year, but it was hard to imagine that he would miss most of the season. The cubs were counting on him to provide a lot of the production that was lost in left field. We didn't want to admit it then, but our hopes all died when Nomar fell down that night in St. Louis.

4. Unstable bullpen: Um, yeah. Bullpen, not good. Lots of "kids" as Dusty says. The veteran anchors of the bullpen, Remlinger, Borowski and Hawkins were all failures this year, and didn't end the season in a cub uniform. The Cubs never really had anyone in the pen that inspired much confidence other than Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood who was impressive in his short lived role as the 11 million dollar set up man. I like Wuretz a lot, and I expect him to have a big year in 06. He has been a little wild at times, but his command improved last year, and his strike out numbers are phenomenal.
Ohman is a serviceable lefty who quietly put together great numbers. Novoa, and even Wellemeyer are good cheap live arms who have lots of upside. If Williamson can get more of his strength back, the cubs may not be in terrible shape next year.

5. No Full Seasons from Wood or Prior: This is a familiar story for the Cubs. You'd like to think that they'd learn to prepare for this by now.

6. Dusty F. Baker: nuff said.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A look ahead to next year.

Well, another as another season plods mercilessly towards its end, we Cub fans once again look ahead to next year. But aside from speculating on possible off season moves, there's not much interesting going on for the Chicago cubs.

Two things I want to get off my chest
#1 Derrek Lee deserves the MVP more than Andruw Jones. Andruw Jones has had a great season, but not nearly as extraordinary as Andruw Jones. Aside from his franchise record 51 homeruns, the rest of his game wasn't anything special at all, especially his .263 batting average.
Albert Pujols has certainly had an extraordinary season and he just barely edges out D-Lee for my vote. Lee's numbers are just slightly better, and Lee is the superior defender and baserunner, Pujols is a very worthy MVP. He is simply the best hitter in baseball. He was more consistent than Lee over the course of the season, had much fewer strikeouts, and didn't see as many good pitches as Lee because he is so feared.
Although the MVP isn't supposed to take past seasons into consideration, it's hard to ignore the fact that were it not for Barry Bonds, Pujols would already have 2 or 3 MVPs under his belt.

And another thing! As much as I'd like to see them collapse, the White Sox aren't chokers, and they aren't the 69 Cubs. I wish the media would shut up about this "epic collapse."
The white sox haven't had a monumental collapse. They played over their heads the first part of the season, and seemed to have almost everything go their way. But they were never a strong team offensively, and their pitchers got off to a pace that was impossible to sustain.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the Sox have leveled off some and become more of the .600 team that they should be. They aren't supposed to be a .750 juggernaut. When you have the Cleveland Indians barreling along virtually undefeated for weeks at a time, it's impossible for the tribe not to gain ground, no matter what the white sox do.
A choke is when a team plays below it's ability, and beats themselves. It's when a team does much worse than should be expected from them, like, say, the 2004 Cubs.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The wrong thing to say

"It seems like the same guys are missing signs. You keep going over them, but you ought to have the signs by Sept. 5."

Hairston responded: "Obviously, you don't want to [miss signs]. But make no mistake about it. That's not why we lost."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Way to go Cubs.

Nice season boys. You dumbasses will be lucky to finish above .500. Ha!... Where the hell can can a guy get a f#$*ing Chalupa around here anyway?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Dusty's approach doesn't hit home

I was reading a post over at Bleed Cubbie Blue by Al Yellon that caught my attention. Al said "finally, there are signs that perhaps, just perhaps Dusty Baker gets it."

"We have to cut these walks down," Baker said. "We have to hold runners a little better. We have to increase our on-base percentage via walks. I'm not a 'walk' man per se, to go up there looking for walks. But at the same time, if it's 3-1 and you're swinging at something in the dirt or over your head when you should've walked. Also big is situational hitting, driving runners in. There's a few things we can work on."

Given what's happened this year, I have to wonder myself if perhaps, just perhaps, the old Dustbag might be starting to get it. It's hard to say. That quote is a big departure for him.

It should be obvious to any manager that team OBP (particularly via the walk) and batting with RISP have been the two most crucial issues for the Cubs offense this year. But as we've learned, you can never assume that something is obvious to Dusty. (Obviously Korey and/or Neifi should never bat leadoff, obviously Todd Hollandsworth isn't good, obviously you don't leave Chad Fox out there to die, obviously LaTroy Hawkins isn't a good closer...) It's unfortunate that when Dusty states the obvious, it's actually a step in the right direction.

And although its nice to see that Dusty is at least focused on the right things, I'm not entirely confident that the Cubs change their ways (or woes) with Baker at the helm. The Cubs problems go beyond the talent on the roster or lack thereof. A big part of the problem has been how players are used in the line-up and how they are taught to approach hitting.

Get busy swinging or get busy dying

Here's a few other quotes to remind us of who we're dealing with.
"It's called hitting, and it ain't called walking. Do you ever see the top 10 walking? You see top 10 batting average. A lot of those top 10 do walk. But the name of the game is to hit."
Actually, the name of the game is to score.
"Who's been the champions the last seven, eight years? ...Have you ever heard the Yankees talk about on-base percentage and walks? Walks help. But you ain't going to walk across the plate. You're going to hit across the plate. That's the school I come from."

And of course there is his classic line. He's never going to live this one down (and he doesn't deserve to).
"I think walks are overrated unless you can run... If you get a walk and put the pitcher in a stretch, that helps. But the guy who walks and can't run, most of the time they're clogging up the bases for somebody who can run."
--Dusty Baker, Cubs manager (Chicago Daily Herald)
Ahh...that one is priceless...clogging up the bases..
When you look at the numbers, it's clear that his approach to hitting is flawed. No mater how well you hit, if you don't get on base via the walk, you won't score as many runs as you should. The cubs leading the NL in hitting, (which I find pretty amazing actually, given the terrible outfield production.) They are 1st in average, 1st in hits, 1st in Doubles, 1st in Total Bases, 2nd in home runs, and 2nd in Slugging. Given those numbers, you would think the Cubs would be a slam dunk for them to be at least in the top three in opb and runs scored...but they aren't. The Cubs rank 6th in Runs Scored, and 9th in OBP. That doesn't even seem mathematically possible. It's not easy to do. You have to bat horribly with runners in scoring position, have totally dysfunctional lineup construction, and a miserably low walk rate, which is exactly what the Cubs have done, thanks in large part to one Dusty F Baker.

They are last in the league in walks (or very close to it, as of yesterday they were ahead of Barry Bonds-less SF by only 2) If this season has taught us anything, it is that walks are underrated, not overrated. And the impatient approach to hitting keeps them from not only getting on base, but from driving runners in. Cubs hitters feel like they have to drive the batters in by swinging, ("You're going to hit across the plate") instead of waiting for a pitch they can hit, or drawing a walk and letting the next guy drive you in when he will likely get a better pitch to hit. Aggressive hitting is great, but not all the time. It has it's time and place. The problem is, the Cubs hitters have no idea where or when that is.
To be fair, Dusty has proven effective at coaching his players on how to hit the ball, and the cubs are a good hitting team. That's what's so frustrating. He doesn't help them take smarter at bats. For the cubs to be successful next year, they need to begin putting more of a premium on plate discipline, which would mean that Dusty will have to adapt his philosophy. I hope he can do it, because it doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon.

Season doesn't matter anymore. Enjoy!

Hey there readers. I haven't written much lately, because, well, I haven't cared as much. I would imagine many of you haven't checked the blog as often for the same reason. Mark Grace (slacker) hasn't done any writing either, but that's just as well. Basically what happened is, the Cubs and I broke up. Don't worry, it's OK, we are still good friends. But the Cubs and I have gone back to the kind of relationship we used to have in the 80s and 90s. It's more of a low key, relaxed, casual type-deal. We don't have to spend every moment together and we are allowed to see other people. We don't have high expectations for one another, but for the most part we enjoy eachothers company.I have been going through Cubbie withdrawal symptoms since they fell out of the race. It hasn't been easy. Some of the symptoms include: getting more work done, having a healthy social life, sleeping better, and reading more. If you are experiencing any of these things, don't worry, it's normal.

Meaningless September baseball is certainly something we are all familiar with as cubs fans, just not in the last few years. It's not that bad. Since the games don't matter, they can no longer be a source of so much anxiety and stress. Being a cub fan is no longer are as time consuming. Watching the games is now optional. And since expectations are low, they are less disappointing. It doesn't really matter. Anything good that happens (like Henry Blanco going 3 for 4 today with a homerun) is a pleasant surprise. W'hoo! September is once again a month where Cub fans can relax, and simply bask in baseball's warm glowing, warming glow Find one of many emplty seats now available at Wrigley and enjoy the remainder of the season with light heartedness, a sense of humor and a beer.

Now is a time for us to pull for the new guys like Matt Murton, Ron Ce, and Jeremy VanBuren. We can now let go of our unrealistic hope of reaching the post season, and latch on to other less exciting and only slightly less unrealistic hopes. He can hope to watch Greg Maddux collect at least 15 wins for his 18th consecutive year (staggering), or hope to see Derrek Lee win the MVP award, or better yet, the triple crown. Unfortunately, because those guys are on the Cubs, it probably wont' happen for them either. But there are other things to root for. Perhaps we can see Nomar finish the season without loosing any limbs. Or maybe, just maybe, Dusty Baker will get fired. OK, I know that is asking too much, but I would be very eager to see if he will learn something from this terribly disappointing season. More on that later.
Relax, enjoy.
Go Cubs.