Monday, April 26, 2010

Notes on Z Move

Nothing like playing the Brewers to get the Cubs back on track, yesterdays 12-2 thrashing capped off a most enjoyable sweep of the Beer Boys.

Taking notes around the Cubs blogosphere the move of Big Z to the bullpen has got Cubs and baseball fans buzzing...from desperation (which it partly was) to Lou losing his mind (doubtful), the sentiments are wide ranging and in my view (without any polls) about 70 percent on the negative. Although that figure may have gone down slightly after the weekend sweep.

The Z move was a surprise to most when it happened last week and I'll be honest there's many good arguments as to why this is the wrong thing to do. Many of those opinions use strong statistical analysis to show why this will not work. However, in certain cases it's not just about the numbers, at times you need to go past or against the stats to see something that's hard to quantify.

Don't get me wrong, I love stats and numbers...Heck, back in college I developed a system based on numbers to beat the house in Las Vegas betting on sports. That love of numbers didn't change in spite of a Vegas weekend with vague memories of a student loan check, kamikaze shots, the Circus Circus, some lopsided NBA games, and a drive back to Flagstaff with repeated muttering of the words "you've got to stick to the system". However that is another story.

My point is that in spite of a mountain of statistical evidence to the contrary sometimes you have to go with a decision based on a gut instinct...preferably less the kamikaze shots. Baseball is played by humans and not by numbers and that is the variable in the equation. Emotions are not subject to following the same pattern every time. So while the Big Z move doesn't make sense in many statistical ways the only number that matters right now is in the win column. One thing was clear prior to the Z move, the relief core was not getting the job done.

It's not like Big Z has been traded and this is permanent, he can go back to the starting rotation at some point. Time will tell if this was the right move but shoring up the relief pitching was needed and that can't be denied.

One of the tough parts of any boss or managers job is motivating his or her staff; Lou sending Z to the pen seems as much about motivation as it is about solidifying a Cubs weakness. The change can serve both functions, motivation and better relief pitching. At some point down the road the Cubs can put Z back in the rotation and bring up a young kid like Cashner or make a trade for a vet relief pitcher. So this could be a double win, the Cubs get a more motivated Z in the rotation and more experience for a young pitcher until he's ready to move up to the big club. It's a gamble and in the end could implode the Cubs 2010 season but it also could be exactly what was needed.

Lou has been around a long time and I don't think the fact he doesn't kick as much dirt onto the umpires should be interpreted as a lack of motivation or that making a move against the numbers means he's lost his mind. It just may be that Piniella's baseball instincts and ability to motivate players makes this the right move at the right time...we shall see.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Goin' to Z Pen

Earlier today when I said Ted Lilly's return will move one of the Cubs "solid and experienced the pen", I thought it would be Gorzelanny. Now we see that arm is Big Z's; this is certainly an interesting move and will give the Cubs fans and blogoshere a lot to talk about.

Moving Z to the pen had been mentioned in different places on the web but I didn't think it was really going to happen. The Cubs relief pitchers just got a whole lot more experience.

If someone had told me only 18 days ago when the Cubs played the DBacks in the final spring training game that in less than three weeks Z would be moved to relief while still healthy, I would have said "no way"...WAY...things just got a little more interesting.

4 Ugly Ones

This Cubs four game skid has been unpleasant to say the least...Bottom line is, these guys need to score more runs. Yes, I am a master of the obvious! Without going into the reasons why the team isn't hitting or why the bullpen has struggled, I would like to talk to the many fans who are already jumping off this season's Cubs ship.

After recently checking the blogosphere temperature regarding Cubs fans feelings about the rough start this season, I found a lot of negativity. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this, as Cubs loyalists we are always on the lookout for early signs of an apocalyptic college of coaches type bad season, and we certainly expect to be kicked in the teeth right at the precipice of something great...but folks it's April 21...April, not May or June but frickin April. The negative fan can see that with such limited time left in the season there is virtually no way the Cubs can make up this current huge 4 game deficit. As for me, I'm not worried...yet. I certainly haven't heard Ole Captain Lou yell "every person for himself, this sucker is sinking", in reality this ship has barely left the dock.

The Cubs have had some pretty good starting pitching and if that continues it's a good sign they can be competitive this year. With Theodore coming back as a starter this weekend one of the other solid and experienced arms helps by moving to the pen.

I've even read plenty of criticism of new Cubs batting coach Rudy most of us are glad our full days work isn't judged by the first 10 minutes in the office. We all know the team has some issues right now and is attempting to work through them. This Cubs club has a lot of veteran presence so I for one will give them some time to get on track before passing any judgements on the season's eventual outcome.

I'm no doctor, hell, I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night but I'm going to prescribe some needed medication to those of you already writing off the Cubs season...Take a large CHILL PILL. My point isn't that the Cubs will at some time just start kicking some azz and run over the Central but only that its to early to tell how this season will end up.

You can come back here and tell me "I told you so" if the Cubs are still playing poorly and sucking wind 6 to 8 weeks from now.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tale of Two Home Openers

In my blog about the regular season opening last week I said this: "The young kids in the (Cubs) pen will be some of the most interesting players to watch as we move though the early phase of the season". Perhaps what I should have said is: "The young kids in the pen will be some of the most unpredictable players to watch, sometimes frustrating and infuriating, sometimes outstanding and dominating"...Apparently the word "interesting" in my original statement means, edge of your seat nervousness hoping these guys don't screw up a fine performance by a Cubs starting pitcher.

A nice home opening win at Wrigley yesterday, great to see the Cubs hitting the long ball. Now here we are with an off day and a victory tomorrow will give the Cubs a season high win streak of 2 games...Hey, it's still early in the season. Too early to draw many conclusions at this point but the Cubs starting pitchers have been outstanding (outside of the Big Z first game "Mulligan"). The Cubs potential solid starting rotation bodes well for the long haul if the team can score enough runs and the relievers step it up (I know, if, if). So far it's been a bit of feast or famine with the bats, game to game hitting consistency would be nice.

The Cubs opener at Wrigley also premiered many new improvements to the venerable ballfield (expended and improved rest rooms and a new luxury suite to name a few) but those improvements paled in comparison to the facility upgrade seen in Minnesota.

Watching the Minnesota Twins open up the new outdoor Target Field yesterday on ESPN gave a vivid picture of what a new facility can do for a team and fan base. After a nearly 3 decade hibernation in the crappy hermetically sealed concrete and plastic cave known as the Metrodome, Minnesotans and their team have emerged to find themselves in what appears to be one of baseball's best new facilities. I say bravo, baseball was meant to be played outdoors! No retractable roof like Milwaukee or Arizona, however the notorious Minnesota weather may cool off some of the luster at some point, but the stadium was built with that in mind...the concourse and field both have underneath radiant heating.

With this new stadium the Twins are now in a whole new competitive era of marketing and revenue generation. Sure Wrigley Field is one of a kind and Chicago is a great baseball town but it's not hard to envision the appeal Target Field and all its luxurious amenities will have on potential free agents. I know the Ricketts have already made many positive changes to Wrigley Field ($10 Million worth according to team officials) but at this point most of those are improvements for fan and player comforts and aesthetics. Revenue generating changes at Wrigley Field are going to be where the Ricketts are directing their focus now and some of those changes could prove more controversial with Cubs fans.

It was funny or pathetic but not surprising to hear ESPN's John Saunders call Xavier Nady - Zah-vee-er Noddy on a Cubs/Brewers highlight cut-away from the Twins/Red Sox game. What do you expect from a Canadian born former college hockey player? Well, I expect if you work for "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" as ESPN bills itself and you're a studio host that you know how to pronounce the name of a 9 year MLB veteran player who's played for both the Yankees and Mets among other teams. Saunders was 0-2 not even getting one of Nady's names right...Nice going, Jan Soundrez.

The Twins new home Target Field

Friday, April 09, 2010

Cubs on 1 game win streak

How many of you got off the ledge after yesterdays Cubs win? It's amazing what one nice victory can do for a person's psyche. After the first two opening losses of the season I did some reading in the Cubs web blogosphere and many fans were talking as if the season were over already...ya know...doomed for being a Cubs fan, another season of failure on the way.

I can tell you that I was very very disappointed after that opening day thrashing by the Braves but like Lou said, it's just one game. Dempster's game two gem gave me a shot of optimism even though they lost in the end. Most fans realize that major league baseball isn't like American Idol where you get tossed out for a bad performance, it's a marathon race and it can take a bit to find the proper pace.

Right now the Cubs are finding out what they have in the pen, we knew this was going to happen with all the young guys and new faces. Thus far the Cubs relievers have had mixed results, Samardzija, Grabow, and Berg disappointing but Marshall, Russell, Caridad, and Marmol looking good. Grabow being the veteran of the group makes his performance a little harder to take. However once Theodore Roosevelt Lilly comes back most likely Gorzelanny will shift to the pen and give the Cubs another solid experienced lefty in relief.

As for Big Z, I stand by my feeling that he's going to have a good year...Game one was his Mulligan. The Cubs have a lot of veteran position players on this roster so I think it's important to have at least one hungry talented rookie like Tyler Colvin in the mix. Colvin looks like he belongs and will push the Cubs outfielders to keep working hard and not get complacent.

Now that the Cubs have a win under the belt, the next step is to get a win in the opening game of today's series against the Reds. Even though Carlos Silva did a nice job this spring he still scares me...I guess it's the unknown, new Cub, new league for him. After he has a good regular season game (hoping today), then I'll breath a touch easier and feel better about the rotation.

I'm going to blog more often throughout the regular season right up until next spring when you will once again get the best spring training coverage of our favorite ballclub here at Boys of Spring. T

Hi ho Silva, away!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Earth Moving and Opening Day

I was over at my mom's house yesterday for Easter dinner, while some of us were standing around munching some appetizers and chatting I noticed her chandelier was swinging from side to side. The sliding glass door was open but we didn't feel any breeze that could have been making it move. My mom's friend Chuck said maybe there was an earthquake, my niece said maybe it's ghosts. A few minutes later she got a text from a friend saying that there had been an earthquake in Baja, Mexico area and that their pool in AZ had been sloshing from side to side. Never felt or even heard of anything like that here in the Phoenix area...very strange.

The Cubs finished the weekend with Friday and Saturday games here in AZ then headed off to Atlanta. Now it's finally time - the start of another baseball season, and I'm really pretty optimistic about the Cubs this year.

Some nice things came out of this spring training, the emergence of Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro, solid pitching from youngsters Caridad, Russell, and Berg, slim and in shape Geo and Z, and what appears to be a good clubhouse mix. However, doing it in the spring is vastly different than the regular season and the pressure is now ratcheted up 10 fold.

How will these young pitchers do when they hit the big stadiums and bright spotlights? Will Colvin's bat cool while on the bench? Is Z really going to settle down a bit and have a big year? Can Soriano get his bat going again, will Dome be better at the plate now that he's back in right field? Can slimmer Geo forget last season show us the ROY type Geo? These are but a few questions that need to be answered and the Cubs now have 162 games in which to do it.

After watching the team for the past month and a half I have drawn some conclusions (not from wins/losses or stats) but from my own observations and baseball knowledge and I'll mention a few of those thoughts here.

I think Big Z is going to have a fine year (if he stays healthy) it is at this age (28 turning 29 June 1) that many outstanding MLB pitchers really came into their own. Randy Johnson is one example who found his stride about this time having never won more than 14 games until 29 years old, then had a 19-8 breakout season. John Smoltz was a good consistent pitcher like Z in his younger days but also never won more than 15 in a season until he turned 29 years old then went 24-8 and won the Cy Young award. This is about the age when the athletes body is in top shape and the knowledge and maturity it takes to be a top pitcher line up together.

The Cubs pitching rotation has some good arms and depth, I think Randy Wells is the real deal. He has the pitches and right temperament to be consistent over the long season. Along with Dempster and Lilly (provided he's the Theo of old) the Cubs have a nice solid if not spectacular top 4. Gorzelanny and Silva provide nice depth. When Silva showed up at Fitch a bit larger than expected most Cubs fans including me kind of wrote him off as a non-factor this season. Silva to his credit has just worked hard and did what he had to do and may actually give the team a plus out of the Milton Bradley trade.

The young kids in the pen will be some of the most interesting players to watch as we move though the early phase of the season. A lot is riding on these untested arms of Caridad, Russell, and Berg as well as Jeff Samardzija who is relatively green with only 30 MLB innings under his belt. Sean Marshall was outstanding this spring and the lanky lefty is versatile with the ability to come out of the pen and spot start when needed. Marshall's breaking ball was looking good this spring.

Carlos Marmol has everything needed to be a top level closer, he was a bit inconsistent this spring but settled down nicely at the end of camp. If he starts the season with confidence and consistency he could give the Cubs a tough closer for years to come. That being said, he's still one of the question marks coming into the season. My opinion is, Marmol will be a good fit as the closer.

The Cubs were down substantially in runs scored last year from 2008 and they won't likely get all that scoring back but they will be a solid run scoring team this year. Without going through the whole lineup player by player what is most needed this year is a bounce back from Soriano and Soto at the plate and healthy season from Ramirez. If those three things come close to happening the Cubs will plate plenty of runs. Marlon Byrd should add a nice mid-end of line up bat along with playing solid CF.

The Cubs have much better depth and talent off the bench this year with Chad Tracy, Colvin, Nady, and Baker/Fontonot platoon situation. If the middle infield is inconsistent or has an injury situation the Cubs have a potential star in Starlin Castro waiting in the wings at Iowa.

The most important changes to the Cubs this season may be the addition of new staff members Rudy Jaramillo and Greg Maddux. It's harder to evaluate the impact of these guys but the players seemed to really respect and value the knowledge that these two bring to the table.

The Cubs aren't pegged by most experts as the divisional favorite at this point and that's probably accurate and a good thing as we start the season. However if the Cubs start getting positive answers to some of these season opening questions they could definitely be a challenger this year. I like the attitude of this team and the workman like way they go about their business. This isn't a glamor type team but it is a talented group and how they jell as a "team" will be a big factor in this years success.

I'm always a bit sad when the Cubs leave AZ, mainly for selfish reasons (being around the team on a regular basis) but I'm always more happy to start a new season. This year the Cubs don't have the big expectations as they've had in recent years but from my way of looking at it, that is probably the type of year when they just might win it all...Not saying they're going to win it all this year, just that it probably will happen in a season like this when nobody is really expecting it. Hey, why not this year?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Shuttin' Down the Rocks

Soriano goes yard in Cubs win
BOS Photos by John Antonoff

The Cubs closed out their home portion of the 2010 spring schedule with a 2-0 shutout of the Colorado Rockies. The 2 runs came courtesy of an Alfonso Soriano homer in the 6th.

That's all the Cubs would need as they got solid pitching again from Carlos Silva who tossed 5 innings allowing 6 hits with 1 K. Silva wasn't spectacular but pounded the strike zone, he generally doesn't compound his problems with walks and he didn't issue a free pass today.
Carlos Marmol looked like the closer the Cubs hope to see this year, pitching a good inning in the 6th striking out tough hitters Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki. The rest of the Cubs pitchers held Colorado in check.

The Cubs didn't do alot of hitting today but Alfonso Soriano was hot going 3-for-3, including the decisive homerun. Cubs fans know how streaky Soriano is at the plate, when he's hot he can hit almost anything, when he's not he can look hapless.

Earlier in the week the weather was predicted to be fairly ugly with rain today and tomorrow, along with cool temperatures. April brought a beauty today and that's no foolin. The crazy spring weather saw 65 degrees at the start of today's game in Mesa and 83 degrees in Chicago at the same time. This season we had an unusually high number of rainouts in the Cactus League with 7, however the Grapefruit League easily trumped that with 19 games rained out. Can you imagine driving a couple hours one way only to be rained out?

We had 10,005 at Hohokam today, raising the Cubs home spring attendance to 152,493 for 14 games, or an average of 10,892 per game - that was actually more per game than last years average of 10,690 (19 games). The 2010 average per game was down from 2008, but near identical to the the 16 home games in 2007. Considering the weather, poor scheduling and economy the 2010 Cubs attendance numbers are very solid.

Our National Anthem today was performed by Malina Moye who did a Jimi Hendrix-esque electrified guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner...I could see some wincing from the old school crowd.

A foul ball took a one hop bounce into Len Kasper and Bob Brenly's booth, fortunately no announcers were harmed in the process. The Hohokams hold a 50/50 raffle during each game raising proceeds that are split between a lucky fan and United Way charities. They raised over $25,000 for the charity throughout the season.

As is the case in these games minor leaguers tend to get involved in the late innings and one of my new all-time favorite "Cubs-to-be" names entered the game at the end: Smaily Borges. That's a fun one to announce.

Frightening sight of the day, Aramis Ramirez getting hit by a pitch in the 4th inning, he should be fine but was taken out as a precaution. More frightening sight- right below me in the stands was a mom and her crying infant with his head shaved and a 3 to 4 inch high mohawk going down the middle, and the mother with about a 4 inch long St. Louis Cardinal logo tattooed on her neck- need I say more?

The Cubs have two more exhibition games here in AZ at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks on Friday and Saturday. I'm very excited about Opening Day in Atlanta on Monday! Be sure to check back here over the weekend or for sure on Monday morning as I will have my complete run-down of the Cubs roster including my thoughts on the upcoming season.

Hak-Ju Lee one of the Cubs rising minor leaguers

No Chance of Rain Today

Looking out from the BOS broadcasting tower here in Mesa all I can see is blue sky and now has us at a 20 percent chance of rain...I'll go one better, we have a ZERO percent chance of rain today. The Cubs final home game of the Cactus League season will be played in cool weather (average high temp this time of year in Mesa is 80), today's high is expected in the low-60's. Cubs - Rockies first pitch at Hohokam is 1:05 AZ time, report to follow. T