Game 1 of The Cubs World Series Run

A young pitcher was making his major league debut. He was extremely nervous and was throwing up in the clubhouse bathroom 30 minutes before he was slated to pitch. After many a heave, he finally got his composure and walked out to the mound. The first pitch he threw beaned the leadoff batter on the neck. The hitter was notorious for charging pitchers, but he just gave the young hurler a glare and trotted down to first. The next hitter was slightly luckier. He drew a walk on a borderline pitch at the knees. Surrounded with this jam, our hero lost his cool and walked the next two batters. After walking in 2 runs, the skipper made the long walk from the dugout and took his pitcher out. As the rookie walked into the dugout, the first thing he said to his team was: “What was that skip? You took me out when I had a no-hitter going!”

Even though that was a joke, this is very much how I felt when Carlos Zambrano was pulled from the Cubs first spring training game yesterday. I thought it was ridiculous that Quade would take a pitcher out when he was riding a no-no, spring training or not. Then I realized that this was Mike Quade, the guy selected for manager over a Hall of Famer. He probably knows his stuff. So I don’t question him anymore.

Even if he didn’t throw a no-hitter, Big Z was definitely at top form. It gave me huge hope for the season, seeing that Cy Young potential. If he can carry that out for the whole season, I think he’ll do just fine.

The next guy that came in was Matt Garza. His outing was shaky, but I’m not worried about it. He probably had killer start-the-season nerves, plus the pressure of a debut. He also said that he wasn’t throwing any breaking pitches, nothing but fastballs and changeups. So I’m not that concerned. Garza also got his first professional hit ever.

Here’s some other stats from the game:
Fukudome: walked then scored
Starlin Castro: 2 hits + stolen base
Marlon Byrd: 2 hits + RBI, plus run scored
Aramis Ramirez: hit and an RBI but stranded two
Carlos Pena: drew a walk, prevented grounding out of double play through extreme hustle (that’s worth a HR in my book)
Soriano: 3 hits and 2 RBIs!
Soto: 1 hit
DeWitt: no hits, stranded 5
Baker: hit and a walk

Overall, the Cubs lineup showed potential and I think it’s going to be a great year!
 
 



Forecast for Rain?

For the last four months, the sky has been a dreary shade of gray here and it’s rained six times a week. The crummy Holland weather took a turn for the worse when baseball season ended, and since then has relentlessly pounded my life with depressing forecasts for rain. The only way to get through it is to think of the light at the end of the tunnel, spring.
Just like the real weather has depressed me, the utter absence of baseball in my life over the offseason has shook me. And just like the winter, the only way to get through it is to look forward to spring. (The Matt Garza rumors helped, too.)
Today as I walked into my backyard, I saw something that made me smile. Springing out of the ground, beating the odds (and the rain), was an 100% Dutch tulip, just the kind that the country is famous for. That little tulip didn’t care what the temperature was, it just decided that spring was here and that was that.
I take that as a sign. Spring Training is finally here after a long offseason. I haven’t been this happy since… well, last baseball season. My team is back! Yes, the division’s gotten tougher and some say the Cubs forecast is looking like rain, but I say the Cubs are going strong and possibly may go all the way this year. If the Cubs can ignore the critics, keep the momentum, play as a team, and ultimately be like that tulip…

It’s going to be a great year at Wrigley.

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The Dream Team Part I – Classics

This was really fun to put together, but really hard too. Imagine taking all the elite first baseman that ever played, and choosing one. Hard. Knowing me, I probably forgot some legend and everyone will get offended. If I did, sorry.

I’m going to throw out 4 different ways this team could be put together, in 4 different posts:

Team #1: The Classics

These are the old, legendary, Babe Ruth type players.
 
1B – Lou Gehrig
2B – Jackie Robinson (Joe Morgan)
SS – Honus Wagner (Joe Tinkers)
3B – Jimmy Collins
C – Johnny Bench (Yogi Berra)
LF – Cool Papa Bell 
CF – Willie Mays/Mickie Mantle
RF – Babe Ruth

Rotation:
1. Cy Young
2. Sandy Koufax
3. Satchel Paige
4. Bob Feller
5. Dizzy Dean   

  

The Pena Colada

Oh yeah, I went there. The perfect nickname for our new first baseman, Carlos Pena. The Pena Colada. I think he just got the coolest nickname on the Cubs.
Anyway, he’s got something to prove this season and I expect him to come through big. He’spenacolada.jpg 100% health wise, has the motivation of a contract year, and a move to Wrigley Field from the pitcher’s paradise, Tropicana Field. All those factors are going to play out into a huge season.
Even if his impact doesn’t play into the stat sheet, we’re going to see him affect the team off the field, too. A lot of people think that a clubhouse guy is overrated, but a perfect example of how influential they can be is Mike Quade. He motivated the team and made guys like Jeff Samardzija look like aces. If the team had simply gotten hot and Quade had nothing to do with it, then he wouldn’t be in Arizona as the manager right now. He didn’t have the better resume, the better playing career, or even the better hair. Now that I think about it, not any hair. But Q was such a presence on the team that other players were motivated and a once dead team went on a 24-13 run.
Back to Pena. I think he’ll motivate the infield to be better defensively, be a role model for the rookies offensively, and he might even be able to help the pitchers keep their composure. Matt Garza will benefit from already working with Pena for 4 years and I also expect a lot of pickoffs from the ex-Rays duo.
The bottom line is that our offense (and defense) is resting on the shoulders of Carlos Pena, and I expect the Colada to come through.  

Stuff I Never Thought Of

Here’s some stuff that seems weird but actually happened. (Or will happen.)

1. Alfonso Soriano used to turn double plays with Derek Jeter.

2. On July 16, 2010, Starlin Castro stole home off of Jamie Moyer. In 1986, Moyer made his MLB debut. Starlin Castro wouldn’t be born for another 4 years.

3. In 2010, Alfonso Soriano made 40 thousand dollars every time he stepped up to the plate.

4. Despite Carlos Pena’s “slump”, he would’ve led the Cubs in homers and RBI in 2010.

5. If the Cubs under Quade record of 24-13 is stretched out to a whole season, The North Siders will cruise to a division title with a record of 105-52.

That’s one of many reasons to be optimistic. The offseason is over, Spring Training is here.
Let’s Go Cubbies!!! 

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The Lineup

Pitchers and catchers report in 2 days. The first Spring Training game is on February 27th. Opening Day is set for April 1st. All this is coming up, yet the Cubs still have some question marks in their lineup. Here’s my opinion on the leadoff, rotation, and 2nd base problems. Beware, it’s a little crazy.

1. Darwin Barney 2B
2. Starlin Castro  SS
3. Marlon Byrd    CF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Carlos Pena 1B
6. Alfonso Soriano LF
7. Tyler Colvin RF
8. Geovany Soto C
9. Pitcher

Rotation: 
1. Ryan Dempster
2. Matt Garza
3. Carlos Zambrano
4. Randy Wells
5. Carlos Silva

Bullpen:
John Grabow
Thomas Diamond (LR)
Jeff Samardzija (LR)
Looper (not sure what his first name is)
Justin Berg
James Russell
Sean Marshall (LSU)
Kerry Wood (RSU and Spot starter)
Carlos Marmol (CL)

The reason I put Darwin Barney leading off is because
A. He’ll walk more than DeWitt
B. He looks cool
C. He has the same name as a giant friendly purple dinosaur

Yeah, there’s not much in that. But for some reason, I just imagine him starting at second. He’s just as capable as DeWitt offensively and better defensively. I put Silva as the 5th starter just because he’ll do good in the spring. But if he gets injured or becomes inconsistent, the Cubs will look to Cahsner, Samardzija, or Looper, who happened to be a 14 game winner in 2009.
The last thing I want to address is some people’s criticisms to the top of the Cubs lineup. But the key to the Cubs season is going to be the middle of the order. I get goosebumps when I think of the raw power we have protecting each other in the lineup. Ramirez, Pena, Soriano, and Colvin all have the potential for 30+ HR seasons. I expect a lot of RBI’s from them. 

Anyway, that’s what I think the lineup will look like. I think it looks pretty strong. Hopefully the Cubs can contend in 2011. Go Cubs! 

Predictions Part VI

The predictions come to a close with the NL Central.

Here is my humble opinion:

1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. St Louis Cardinals
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Yeah, I’m biased, so what?

But really, I actually have some facts to back this thing up. Here’s each teams offseason moves.

The Cubs were busier this winter than anyone expected them to be. They kicked offrealpena.jpg theiroffseason by hiring Mike Quade to be their manager, after he led them to a 24-13 record towards the end of the season. A lot of people criticized this choice, but hey, a record like that speaks for itself. Then they watched a lot of top tier first baseman go by, but ended up with a nice pick in Carlos Pena. His 40 homer average will be welcome in the Cubs lineup. This move was criticized too, but with the motivation of a contract year plus his extreme fly ball tendencies moving to Wrigley, I think he’ll bounce back and end up being a nice addition. The Cubs then addressed their setup man issue by bringing back Kerry Wood, much because of his willingness to take a paycut for his home team. Cubs fans were pretty happy because of these moves, but then Jim Hendry took it farther, arguably too far. He completed a trade for Matt Garza, an elite pitcher that will be a key part of the Cubs rotation, but in turn traded away the Cubs best pitching prospect, best outfield prospect, best catching prospect, and best middle infield prospect. The Cubs are the winners this season, but in two years, Hendry’s gonna be hurting. Still, 2011 is 2011, and Garza will be welcome.

The Brewers rotation got a facelift this winter by adding Shaun Marcum and Zach Greinke, but also giving away a lot of prospects. The top of their rotation looks great, but I think the bottom will be the downfall. Their weak pitching at the 4 and 5 and sometimes even 3 spots coupled with the offensive inconsistencies will equal trouble for the Crew.

The Cardinals traded for Ryan Theriot (stud no more) and afterwards he made some nasty comments to Cubs fans. In fact, I might have a whole post about our Cajun “friend” later. He will be a good addition to their lineup but his range at short will be a problem. Also signed was Lance Berkman, who, like Theriot, looks good in the order but cuts the Cards defense in half. He was trash-talking in the media a little as well. Must be a Cardinal thing. Anyway, the Cards look good this year, just not as good as the Brewers and the Cubs.

The Reds main focus this offseason was extending their star players, which they did a pretty good job at. They also signed Edgar Renteria, who’ll be a good backup infielder for them. The reason they are ranked so low is because they won the division last year when a lot of their players got streaky. At the beginning of the 2010 season, who thought Scott Rolen and Joey Votto would be All-Stars? No one. I think the Reds will cool down considerably in 2011 and not really compete.

The Astros went after a lot of players, but returned home with their tail between their legs. They haven’t made any major acquisitions this winter. Their rotation is shaky and their lineup is inconsistent, which will probably be their downfall.

The Pirates are… well… uhmm.. Let me put it this way. The last time they had a winning season I was 1997. I was negative 1 years old. Sorry Pirate fans, but this just isn’t your year. (Neither were the last 14 seasons.)

The NL Central will be tough, and I’m biased, but I truly think the Cubs have a good shot at the division. 

 

Predictions Part V

Sorry it’s taken so long, but I’ve been really busy these past couple days. Anyway, today I cover the NL West:

Here’s my humble opinion:

1. San Francisco Giants
2. LA Dodgers
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks

I think the only surprise here is the Padres. I’ll explain later in this post, but start by breaking down the moves of each team this offseason.

The Giants did almost nothing. They re-signed Aubrey Huff and dealt Juan Uribe. Then they sat and relaxed. I guess their GM, Brian Sabean, figured: Hey, we won the World Series with this team, why change anything?

The Dodgers had a little bit of a down year in 2010. They were dominant in 2009, but their pitching and offense sputtered, kind’ve like a sophomore slump, just the whole team, and not as bad. But the deal they got for Juan Uribe is what they needed to jump start their offense and start winning games again.

The Rockies started by signing Carlos Gonzalez to a seven-year, $80 million deal. That’s a big move, and they were in the Cubs sort of position this winter, a couple needs but almost no payroll. Still, they have a good lineup, but I think the reason they won so many games last year was because of the breakout year of Ubaldo Jimenez. He’ll be solid this year, but not as dominant as in 2010.

The Padres missed out on the 2010 playoffs by one game. One game! I thought I had it bad being a Cubs fan, but man, that’s just harsh. They started the offseason by dealing Adrian Gonzalez in a blockbuster deal to Boston. Then they signed Orlando Hudson, a good move that I wish the Cubs made. But after A-Gon was A-Gone, (sorry about that) their offense is looking a little on the weak side. They have a great pitching staff and maybe that will win out, so who knows, they could win 100 games or lose 100 games this year.

The Diamondbacks failed to resign their first baseman, Adam LaRoche, who actually put up decent numbers last year. I’m not aware of any other major moves they made, but the bottom line is, they weren’t very good last year, they’re not going to be amazing this year.

These are some heavy predictions, I’ll probably get it all wrong. But hey, it’s fun anyway! Tomorrow I’ll do the NL Central. Cubbies here we come!   


Predictions Part IV

On my fourth day of predictions, we switch to the NL and cover the East.

Here’s my humble opinion:

1. Atlanta Braves
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals

Please Phillie fans, keep back the insults about my mother until I explain myself. I’ll start by breaking down each team’s moves this winter:

The Braves had a productive offseason. Not too busy, just filled some holes. They set up a trade for Dan Uggla, then later solidified it with a 5 year contract. They have a strong rotation with Tim Hudson at the top followed by Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe. They also have a great lineup featuring Jason Heyward and Brian McCann. They won the wild card in 2010. I think this is the year when they can beat out the Phillies.

The Phillies stunned the baseball world when they signed Cliff Lee. Nobody had considered the Phillies in the mix, and now they had a superb rotation. People went as far as saying it was the best rotation in baseball, or even the best ever. There’s no doubting it’s amazing, but is it overrated? Here’s the breakdown.

1. Roy Halladay – 21 game winner. 2 no-hitters. Purely ace stuff. Nothing wrong here.
2. Cliff Lee – Great postseason pitcher. Can deliver in the clutch. But if he hadn’t have dominated the Yankees and the Rays, he would not have that contract. The Phillies should have taken a step back and looked at his regular season numbers. How many wins? 12. Come on, that’s only one more than Big Z, and we all know his season was shaky to say the least. Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria both got hot in the playoffs, but did they get ridiculous contracts?
3. Roy Oswalt – A solid 13 game winner. Good but not great.
4. Cole Hamels – 12 game winner. Solid lefty but known to get in slumps.

Here’s my version of the Phillies rotation: An amazing ace, 3 solid Ryan Dempster type pitchers, and a prototypical 5th starter in Joe Blanton. Yes, it’s a very good staff, but that’s assuming everyone stays perfectly healthy and fills their potential. I think the Braves underrated rotation and pop-filled lineup will prove too much for the Phils. Don’t count them out for the Wild Card, though.    

The Nationals upgraded their lineup with sluggers Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, but are seriously lacking good starting pitching. Stephen Strasburg won’t be back until ’12 and Jason Marquis is injury-prone. Right now it looks like they’re ace is going to be… drum roll… Tom Gorzelanny? They also lost Adam Dunn through free agency. I think this will be a year they’d rather forget. 

The Mets didn’t make any splashes on the free agent pool, but have a lot of players returning from injuries this year, like Jason Bay. They have a good lineup but I think their young pitching staff needs some more experience until they can compete.

The Marlins biggest move was sending Dan Uggla to the Braves. In return they got infielder Omar Infante and pitcher Mike Dunn. They have a good lineup and one of the best shortstops in the MLB with Hanley Ramirez, but this year isn’t their year.

The NL East will be a competitive one, with a lot of pitching. And remember, this is just my opinion, I’ll probably be eating my words later.    

Predictions Part III

Yesterday I predicted the AL Central. Here’s who I think will win the AL West.

Here’s my humble opinion:

1. Oakland A’s
2. Texas Rangers
3. LA Angels
4. Seattle Mariners

This is a very different picture than the 2010 standings, but I’ll explain why I think this is the way things are going to turn out:

The A’s didn’t make a ton of moves this winter, but they didn’t really have ton of holes to fill. They’ve always been a solid team, and I think this is the year that they can make the final push and go to the postseason. The team will rely heavily on pitching and their younger players. The A’s GM Billy Beane is one of the smartest men in baseball, (if you haven’t read his book, Moneyball, then you’re seriously missing out) and he has recognized young talent and let their prospects catch up with the team. It will pay off, and I think it will pay off enough for a division crown.

The Rangers offseason looked a lot like the Yankees’. They chased Cliff Lee, had a heart attack when he signed with Philly, and then sat tight for 3 weeks wondering what to do. They finally signed Adrian Beltre, which is an upgrade at third for them. Even though I like their young starting pitchers, their lineup’s only real force is Josh Hamilton, and the best shortstop in the AL as their leadoff hitter, Elvis Andrus. A big part of their World Series run were players overperforming, and even tough they’ll have a winning season and possibly a Wild Card, I don’t think they can win the division again.

The Angels didn’t do a lot this offseason either. They couldn’t hook Crawford or Beltre, tried to go after Brandon Webb and Matt Garza, but couldn’t complete the transactions. Their biggest move was adding some pop to their lineup with a trade for Vernon Wells. The Angels have a good lineup and some solid pitching, but are not (in my mind) contenders for the division.

The Mariners did almost squat this winter too. They weren’t a great team going into the offseason, finishing with a 61-101 record, and they’re not stellar coming out of it either. The only players worth mentioning are Ichiro and Felix Hernandez. In short, the Mariners are not going to compete at all.

The AL West’s teams weren’t very active this offseason, and what they lost will prove to affect the standings more than what they gained.    

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