Friday, April 11, 2008
Exactly 100 years ago the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series, defeating the Detroit Tigers four games to one in the 1908 World Series. The victory was part of an impressive era for the Cubs, who won 530 of 766 games (.692) between 1906 and 1910. Between those seasons the Cubs dominated the National League, winning four pennants and two World Series in five seasons. The 1906 team won 116 games - a mark tied by the '01 Seattle Mariners - and lost just 36. Their .762 winning percentage is something that will never be equaled in baseball again. With Joe Tinker manning shortstop, Johnny Evers at second base and Frank Chance at first (Tinker to Evers to Chance), the dead-ball era Cubs were a powerhouse.
In the years subsequent the Cubs failed to find any kind of sustained success, losing World Series in 1929, 1932, 1935 and 1938. The '29 team blew an 8-0 lead in Game Four of the World Series, allowing the then-Philadelphia Athletics to score ten runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to win 10-8 and take a dominating 3-1 advantage in the series.
In 1945 the Cubs lost the World Series in seven games to the Tigers, their seventh consecutive defeat in the World Series. Since then, the Cubs haven't been back. Between 1946 and 1983 the Cubs didn't even make the playoffs, consistently finishing with losing records despite featuring terrific players like Ernie Banks or Ron Santo. The '69 season actually inspired hope amongst Cubs fans as the Cubs actually sat in first place for nearly the entire season before dropping 11 of 12 games between Sept. 3 and Sept. 15 and see their 5 game lead over the Mets suddenly turn into a 4.5 game deficit.
In 1984 the Cubs punished their fans for believing in them by blowing a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five NLCS to the San Diego Padres. After brief post-season appearances in 1989 and 1998, the Cubs once more punished their fans with a spectacular collapse in the NLCS as the Cubs gave up eight runs in the eighth inning of Game Six to the Marlins (shades of 1929) and watched as a three games-to-one advantage turned into a defeat.
The '07 Cubs were swiftly swept by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS, ending the Cubs 99th year of disappointment. In the years since the Cubs last World Series victory ... the Titanic sank (1912), World War I started (1914), and ended (1919), the Stock Market fell apart (1929), World War II started (1939), Pearl Harbor was attacked (1941), World War II ended (1945), the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series (1955), America put a man on the Moon (1969), Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency (1974), and the movie Titanic made millions for James Cameron (1997-1998). Yes, it has been an eventful century.
That was then, this is now ... The 2008 Chicago Cubs are eager to erase the stain of the past. The Red Sox managed to undo 86 years of history in 2004, so the Cubs are definitely due.
Phillies Hitting vs. Cubs Pitching. The Phillies enter this series with a lot of hot bats in the lineup. Pat Burrell is off to a hot start with a whopping .513 On-Base Percentage and three home runs and nine RBI in ten games. Burrell has also hit three doubles. Right behind him, making his argument to be considered in the MVP race is Chase Utley who has a .447 OBP and also has three home runs to go with four doubles and eight RBI.
The Phillies problems are at the top of the lineup. If Jimmy Rollins continues to sit out of the lineup, as he did for the final two games of the Mets series, then the Phillies have serious problems. Shane Victorino is off to a slow start with a .233 OBP and just two runs scored. He's also stolen just a single base and was caught once. Eric Bruntlett, J.Roll's replacement, is making a terrific argument for the Phillies to promote Jason Donald from Double-A Reading to play short. Thus far, in addition to making two costly errors on Wednesday night, Bruntlett has an OBP of .231. In order for Burrell, Utley, Pedro Feliz and Ryan Howard to have RBI opportunities, then Victorino and Bruntlett are going to have to produce, or the Phillies will have a dangerously unbalanced lineup.
Cubs Hitting vs. Phillies Pitching. The Phillies send Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer to the mound this weekend. Myers, the team's Opening Day starter, has struggled in his first two starts of the season, going just five innings in both starts and allowing seven earned runs for an ERA of 6.30. After being returned to the rotation after functioning as the team's closer in 2007, Myers is eager to prove himself. Traditionally Myers has pitched the Cubs well: the last three seasons he was 3-2, with a 2.52 ERA and two complete games in his four starts against them. He'll have the edge on Marquis tonight.
Cole Hamels is off to a terrific start in 2008, splitting his first two decisions with an ERA of 1.20. Hamels was actually better in his defeat than he was in his victory, going eight innings and allowing a single run. The matchup Saturday with Zambrano will be spectacular, a real pitchers duel between two hurlers at the top of their respective games.
Sunday the Phillies send Jamie Moyer, who used to pitch with the Cubs back in 1571 (just kidding: 1986 - 1988) to the mound to fight Ted Lilly. I give the edge to Moyer, the soft-tossing lefty who will frustrate Cubs hitters all day long.
The Cubs have some real weapons in their lineup: Kosuke Fukudome is off to a terrific start, with a .526 OBP. Fukudome helps the Cubs correct a major issue their team last season had: nobody setting the table for Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. After Fukudome the Cubs have no major OBP threats right now. Centerfielder Felix Pie has an OBP of .238 and Shortstop Ryan Theroit has an OBP of .281. These crummy performances are ruining the Cubs powerful bats. Tellingly, Derrek Lee has just four RBI despite having three home runs. If the Cubs want to wipe the last 100 years off the scope, they'll have to do better than that.
And the bullpen, with the usual exception of Tom Gordon, pitched well. Until Gordon entered the game they tossed four innings of shut-out baseball. Not too bad.
So that closes the book on the Phillies and Mets. While the Mets may have won 2 of 3, the war for the NL East rages on. Now the Phillies get to return home to match up against the Chicago Cubs, those lovable losers from the North Side of Chicago in search of their first World Series title in 100 years.
Know they enemy ... I had a great Q & A session with Byron Clarke of Goat Riders of the Apocalypse which he will be posting on his blog and then answered some questions of my own about the Cubs. Here they are:
"1. Is Kosuke Fukudome for real?"
Well, he's not a figment of our imagination, but is he .419/.526/.613 for real? Probably not. Interestingly enough, that's the first question most people want to know about the Cubs. In a fit of excitement after the first week, I told Bucs Dugout I expected a .310/.390/.600 line with 40 doubles, 20 homers, 15 steals, and 15 outfield assists. They pointed out the .600 was a tough sell with those power numbers, so maybe it will be a .500 power average, but yeah, I think he's pretty much for real. Whatever the case, he's the most dangerous bat in the lineup as of today.
"2. 2008 is the 100th Anniversary of the Cubs last World Series triumph . The Red Sox have exercised their demons. Will this be The Year for the Cubs?"
Not unless we acquire a front-line pitcher. The Cubs missed out on the World Series when Johan Santana went to the Mets. Our problem remains the same as last year. Carlos Zambrano matches up okay against other aces, Ted Lilly's not as good as the other #2s, and we have another half dozen #5 starters. Now, if Ryan Dempster keeps throwing as well as he did last night, 7 ip, 1 hit, 2 BB, 0 runs, then we might be good to go, but I put the likelihood of that up there with Fooky maintaining his current numbers.
"3. Kerry Wood: What Went Wrong? Could it still go right?"
He got injured. There are lots of things to blame it on, and everyone has their favorite. Some blame it on the two complete games he threw in a doubleheader at the Texas State High School baseball championships, some blame it on the onerous work load in 1998, still others blame Dusty Baker's taxing 2003 demands. Whatever the case may be, Woody can't stay healthy. If he ever does, and he seems to have a good chance to do so pitching out of the pen, then things could still go very right for Kid-K.
So far this year, he's having trouble adjusting to the end of the game. He's had three saves in four chances, but he surrendered a run in his other appearance, so essentially he's three for five in keeping the opponents scoreless. The good thing for Woody is that he has a tremendous pool of good-will stored up in Chicago. I was just telling my friend this morning that if Dempster was still the closer and had gotten off to the start Wood has, well there'd be some nasty columns in the papers. At this point, everyone's still giving Wood the benefit of the doubt.
"4. Who's is the Cubs MVP? (And why?)"
In his two outings, Carlos Zambrano has been masterful. In previous years, he's had very rough starts. Last year, after 5 starts, he was 1-1 with a 6.91 ERA and we were speculating that he was hiding an injury. If he avoids his horrid April and pitches like he does in the summer months, he could very likely be a top candidate for the Cy Young award.
To this point, Fukudome has been the MVP, but D-Lee, Aramis, and Soriano will all end up with better offensive numbers. But the player the Cubs need the most is Carlos.
"5. Is Lou Pinella the right guy to lead the Cubs?"
I think so. After one year, Dusty Baker was a god in Chicago, so things can change, but Lou's got a Chicago personality where Dude Dusty never did. The best thing about Piniella is he puts winning over ideology. Dusty had these notions about how winning baseball was played, and he wouldn't deviate even when we were tail-spinning into last place, or the personnel just didn't make sense. (See Lawsuit: Centerfielders hit leadoff, second basemen hit in the two-hole causing OBP blackholes Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez to hit in front of MVP-Caliber-Derrek Lee 500 times in 2005 v. Cubdom hates Dusty.)
Lou on the other hand has tried multiple times to move Soriano out of the lead-off slot, but has relented when the results don't work out. Anyhow, like all managers, Lou will continue to be loved in Chicago so long as he wins, and when he doesn't... well they fired Ditka once.
"Bonus Q: What makes the identity of being a Cubs fan so special?"
Constant re-affirmation by the people selling us things. Yes, I know it's a jaded viewpoint, but I attend the Cubs convention each January, and the line most likely to get great applause is the one where cubs fans are called "the best fans in the world" by the guys who just charged us $50 a pop to pack into a convention center. We just can't get enough of it.
In a less jaded moment, I would answer that there is a certain camaraderie that develops when a group of people are put through oppression. Cubs fans are proud to be authentic, even though that isn't a word I would use for many of us. Who joins a bandwagon for a team that hasn't won in 100 years? It's signing up for a lifetime of disappointment, but at least there's sunshine involved. So yes, Cubs fans are special... but blasphemy! so are fans of any other team that are equally as devoted, even if their teams win on occasion.
Cubs - Phillies preview later today.
Labels: Odds 'n Ends
Thursday, April 10, 2008
-Remember how concerned people were about Adam Eaton's abilities in the #5 slot of the rotation? Maybe Kyle Kendrick is cause for more concern. Check out the line on Kendrick's performance thus far this season:
vs. Mets: 2.1 IP / 7 Runs / 1 Earned Run / 4 Hits / 6 Walks / 0 Strikeouts
vs. Reds: 5.0 IP / 4 Runs / 4 Earned Runs / 8 Hits / 2 Walks / 1 Strikeout
If you are keeping tally at home, that means that Kendrick has allowed eight walks in seven and one-thirds of an inning and has just one strikeout to show for it. To be fair to Kendrick, just one of the seven runs were earned as the Mets big 6-run inning was largely a product of Bruntlett's defensive miscues, but his struggles on top of a shaky spring and the fact that he needed so much defensive help to get to his 10-4 record last season leaves me feeling pessimistic about Kendrick's chances.
Unless Kendrick can start getting some strikeouts he is going to continue to struggle and his days as a starter are numbered.
-Chad Durbin tossed three and two-thirds nice innings in relief, not allowing any runs and giving up just a single walk while striking four Mets out. He makes a compelling case to take Kendrick's spot.
-If Jimmy Rollins is out for a while and the Phillies lost confidence in Bruntlett's abilities, what will the team do? One rumor I heard was that they'll bring shortstop Freddy Galvis in from Single-A Lakewood to play short, something that I can hardly believe. Galvis might be a defensive standout, but that would be a shocker to see happen. A more definite possibility would be bringing Jason Donald, currently playing at Double-A Reading, into the fold.
-What in the heck is up with the Phillies fielding? In nine games they've made 13 errors. Chase Utley has made three, a fact that shocks me.
Tomorrow, I'll give my thoughts on tonight's Adam Eaton - John Maine duel and I'll turn my eye towards the Cubbies.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
-Jimmy Rollins was 2-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI. Jose Reyes was 1-for-5 with no runs scored and no RBIs or stolen bases. The performance from the Phillies and Mets leadoff hitters is a nice microcosm for the game and illustrate why the Phillies still have a slight edge on the Mets, even with Santana wearing a Mets uni: with the bright lights shining, J.Roll produced and Reyes didn't.
-Nice pitching performance from Jamie Moyer, scattering seven hits or walks over six innings of work.
-The Phillies bullpen bent but didn't break. They allowed three hits and a walk but no runs in the final three innings. The Mets bullpen imploded once Perez left the game, allowing five runs, five hits and three walks over the last three innings.
-Chase Utley got hit by his third pitch this season. Careful, Chase.
-Tonight Kyle Kendrick goes for the Phillies, hopefully improving on his shaky performance against the Reds, where he got the cheapest win imaginable, throwing just five innings and surrendering four runs in the process.
Mets - Phillies, Round 2, tonight at 7:10 in Queens.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
And so the Mets (2-3) and Phillies (3-4) finally get to square off, in a series that has seen a lot of hype and anticipation developing around it over the last six months. Jayson Stark wrote in the pre-season about the emerging Phillies – Mets rivalry, challenging fans “to find two teams in the N.L. that are more closely matched – and more obsessed with each other – than these two.” The genesis for the immediate bad blood in this rivalry stretches back to the 2006-2007 off-season when Jimmy Rollins boldly predicted that the Phillies were the team to beat in the N.L. East (“I think we are the team to beat – finally.”), a claim roundly rejected by the Mets, the defending N.L. East champs, and most of the New York-focused media. The rivalry largely simmered during the regular season as the Mets got off to a lead and held it over the Phillies and Braves.
Let’s rewind to September 12, 2007. The Phillies had just gotten battered by the Colorado Rockies 12-0 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Kyle Kendrick had gotten hammered badly. Meanwhile, the Mets had squeezed out a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in
That’s when everything changed. The next night the Phillies beat the
The Mets continued to struggle, losing two in a row to the Nationals before taking four of their next five games. The Mets 7-6 win over the Florida Marlins on Sunday, September 23rd, seemed to righten the Mets ship. They still held a two and a half game lead over the Phillies. The Phillies had also been playing terrific baseball during this time, winning five of six against the Cardinals and Nationals only to drop two in a row. The last week was dramatic and exceptional, some of the best baseball played in a long, long time.
After dropping a 10-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday (the Mets had gotten clobbered 13-4 by the Nationals the previous day when the Phillies were idle, cutting the Mets lead to a mere two games), the Phillies beat the Braves 5-2 and 6-4. Meanwhile the Mets were spiraling out of control: they lost to the Nationals 10-9 on Tuesday, then 9-6 the next day. The Mets 3-0 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday meant that the Mets and Phillies had identical records at 87-72. Friday night the Phillies beat the Nationals 6-0 before 45,084 roaring fans at Citizens Bank Ballpark while the Marlins defeated the Mets 7-4 in front of 55,298 stunned New Yorkers in
That never happened: Tom Glavine took the mound on Sunday and promptly surrendered seven runs in the first inning on the way to a 8-1 loss to the Marlins, their twelfth loss in seventeen games. The Phillies, meanwhile, jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Nationals on their way to a 6-1 win. It was the Phillies thirteenth win in seventeen games.
The off-season simmered once more until the Mets jumped into the Johan Santana derby and beat out the Red Sox and Yankees. Buoyed with their acquisition of Santana, the Mets suddenly felt emboldened to talk trash, leading Carlos Beltran to declare: “This year, tell Jimmy Rollins WE’RE the team to beat.”
Tonight the rivalry is renewed.
The interesting thing about this series is how the Mets and Phillies aren't putting the strongest pieces they have on the board forward. Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez won't take the mound for the Mets, Santana having pitched (and lost) Sunday, while Pedro is on the D.L. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers hurled the Phillies last two games, so both teams are going with the back ends of their rotations. As I noted above, the Phillies and Mets enter this series with losing records.
Not exactly the makings of Yankees - Red Sox, Part II.
The Mets and Phillies are sending nearly the same teams to the field tonight that met last season. The Phillies have upgraded themselves at third base, adding Pedro Feliz to replace the light-to-no hitting Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez, and ably replaced Aaron Rowand with the Jayson Werth / Geoff Jenkins platoon. There is no reason to believe that the Phillies can't equal the 892 runs they scored in 2007 this season, or even exceed it.
The Mets, meanwhile, bring David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado back along with Jose Reyes. Aside from Moises Alou, on the D.L. and replaced in the Mets lineup with ex-Phillie Endy Chavez, the Mets send substantially the same unit to the field that played last season - although the Mets did upgrade at catcher by acquiring Brian Schneider over Paul Lo Duca in what was basically a swap of catchers with the Nationals. The key to the Mets offense is the play of Jose Reyes, who might have won the 2007 N.L. MVP award had the Mets held on and won the N.L. East. In 2007 Reyes stole 78 bases, hit 12 triples and 12 home runs, scored 119 runs and had an .359 OBP. Reyes struggles down the stretch helped sink the Mets and probably elevated the candidacy of Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who shined while opposite number Reyes sank.
This season Reyes is off to a shaky start, hitting just .238 (.261 OBP) in five games (5-for-21) with a .283 slugging percentage (compared with a robust .421 last season). Reyes also is 0-for-1 in stolen bases. If Reyes isn't threatening the opposition the Mets offense loses its biggest gun and suddenly looks a whole lot more ordinary.
The Santana Issue. I might as well stop for a moment and talk about Johan Santana. I've gotten assailed by Mets fans more times than I can count on this score, but ... The acquisition of Santana improves the Mets, perhaps makes them 2-4 games better, but it isn't the smashing blow to the hopes of the rest of the N.L. that the Mets fans seem to think it is. Santana is a great pitcher, but great pitchers can lose 2-1 pitchers duels, and he only takes the mound once every four-to-five games. Baseball teams win, not individuals. This is what makes baseball a better sport than, say, the NBA. One man can propel an NBA team to a 25-30 game improvement, whereas baseball teams cannot rely on the impact of one player. I'll play the A-Rod card: A-Rod leaves Seattle before the '01 season and they improve by 26 games over their previous season's performance.
Comparisons: Based on last year's performances, here are now the Phillies and Mets stack up. Offensively, the Phillies have the clear edge here. They led the N.L. with 892 runs in 2007, whereas the Mets were fourth with 804 runs. The Mets did steal 200 bases last season - best in the N.L. - to the Phillies 138, but the Phillies were caught 19 times to the Mets 46. On-Base-Percentage? The Phillies led the N.L. with a .354 OBP to the Mets .342. The Phillies also led the Mets in home runs (213 to 177), doubles (326 to 294) and triples (41 to 27). The Phillies were also second in the N.L. in home runs and first in triples. Mets did hit better with runners in scoring position: .276 vs. .259 BA/RISP.
In terms of Pitching, the Mets have the clear edge. The Mets 4.26 team ERA was better than the Phillies 4.73 and they tossed twice as many shutouts as the Phillies: ten to five. The Mets also allowed fewer home runs (206 to 165) and got more strikeouts (1,134 to 1,050).
Fielding, the Mets have the edge once more, posting a superior Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER): .702 vs. .687, although the Mets had a higher Unearned Run Average (UERA): 0.39 vs. 0.33.
What is going to be the key to this series? I have a few.
Can the back end of the Mets rotation beat the Phillies? In particular, the Mets want to see a good game from #3 starter (now likely #2 starter) John Maine on Thursday night against Adam Eaton.
Will the Phillies usual Mets-killers make their appearance? Pat Burrell, who has three home runs and nine RBI in the Phillies first seven games, has a lifetime .921 OPS against the Mets with 41 home runs and 102 RBI in 134 games. If Burrell has a big series, then the Phillies will take at least two of the three games.
Putup or Shutup. Jimmy Rollins vs. Carlos Beltran. Last year J.Roll talked big but backed it up with an MVP performance. Can Beltran do the same after calling Rollins out in spring training? Last year J.Roll had a 1.057 OPS against the Mets with six home runs, 15 runs scored and 15 RBI, four doubles, two triples and eight steals in nine tries in 18 games with the Mets. If the Mets are going to beat the Phillies, Carlos Beltran needs to step up and be a leader and do something like that.
Ghosts of '07. Jose Reyes needs to shake his struggles down the stretch last season out of his head and play some baseball. More than any other player, the Mets need big things from him to beat the Phillies.
Today at 1PM, Jamie Moyer vs. Perez. Mets vs. Phillies. Battle of Armageddon, Take One.
Monday, April 07, 2008
The definition of journeyman, Seánez played (deep breath) for the Indians (for whom he was a 1986 draft choice) from 1989 to 1991, the San Diego Padres in 1993, the Dodgers in 1994 and 1995, the Braves from '98 to '01, then the Padres again in '01, the Rangers in '02, the Red Sox in '03, then Royals in '04, followed by the Florida Marlins later that season, followed by a third stint with the Padres in '05 and '06, then a second tour with the Red Sox later that season, then the Dodgers again before winding up with the Phillies. Seánez joins fellow geriatric pitchers Jamie Moyer (45) and Tom Gordon (40), although he is the young pup of the group at age 39.
What has Rudy Seánez done with his career? In 2007, interestingly enough, Rudy Seánez posted career highs in batters faced (329), innings pitched (76) and games (73). Rudy Seánez managed to post some impressive numbers along the way ...
K/BB ratio: 2.70
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined with respect to pitching stats:
Earned Run Average (ERA): Runs Allowed * 9 / Innings Pitched = What a pitcher would give up if they hurled a nine-inning game.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): (((13 * HR) + (3 * BB) – (2 * K)) / IP) + League Factor. Basically a measure of how a pitcher would have done if he had an average defense behind him.
Home Runs per 9 Innings (HR/9): (HR * 9) / IP
Walks per 9 Innings (BB/9): (BB * 9) / IP
Strikeouts per 9 Innings (K/9): (K * 9) / IP
Yes, he did this while pitching in a pitchers-friendly ballpark, but the fact remains that those are some pretty darn impressive numbers. Seanez's strikeout rate of 22% of the batters he faced is better than the N.L. average of 17%.
But all is not well with Seanez. Parusing his stats I noticed one troubling thing about his profile as a pitcher. In 2007 just 36% of the balls he allowed to be put into play were grounders, vs. 44% were flyballs. As Citizens Bank Ballpark is a far friendlier park to hitters than Dodgers Stadium (2007 Home Run Park Factor: Citizens Bank 145, Dodgers Stadium 104), this could be a real problem for him in the long-term. Will he allow a lot of home runs?
I figured that I'd take a moment to scope out the season thus far. The Phillies send Cole Hamels to the mound tonight to attempt to even up the series with the Reds at 2-2. Overall, the Phillies are 2-4 right now, not a great record, but they haven't played as badly as in Aprils past. Brett Myers struggles worry, but I'm confident that the team can righten ship. The Phillies are, after all, in a better spot than the 0-6 Detroit Tigers are right now. Hmmm ... my prediction of the A.L. Central for the Indians isn't looking quite so crazy now ... And the Mets are a mediocre 2-3 heading into the big series with the Phillies. The Mighty Johan Santana lost yesterday to John Smoltz and the Braves.
Weep for the fall of your idol, Mets fans! Mighty Santana is mortal! More on that tomorrow.