Baseball: Here, There, and Everywhere

Although the Chicago Cubs have always been and probably always will be my first love when it comes to baseball, in learning the history of the game I have found myself becoming more and more interested in baseball outside of the MLB. I went to a Northern League minor league baseball game last season and found that no matter what the baseball is, I am always thoroughly entertained by the game. I am finding that perhaps the most interesting in baseball is the stuff that I have the most difficulty getting information about.

It is probably strange for a 22 year old white kid from the Chicago suburbs to be eating up all the information I can about the Negro Leagues, but I couldn’t be more intrigued by it. I’m trying to figure out what books I need to read, and have decided I’m going to start with the recent Satchel Paige biography. I’ll probably pick it up in paperback when it comes out next month, because with my current state of employment and lack of funds I just can’t justify spending $25+ on a book. I’m hoping when I’m more financially stable I can save up the money to go on a road trip and visit the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, home of the Monarchs.

Also of profound interest to me is Japanese baseball. I’d love to follow a Japanese team, but all the websites are in Japanese only and there’s really no avenues to see the games, and obviously being a one-language wonder I can’t speak Japanese. Of particular interest to me is the migration of the top tier Japanese players from their home league to the MLB, which has probably been an interest of mine since a couple seasons ago when Kosuke Fukudome came over from the Chunichi Dragons to play for my Chicago Cubs. It is interesting to me that people still see the Japanese league as being on par with Triple A ball at best, when players like Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki manage to come here and do as good if not better as they did at home. I think we ought to show a lot more respect for these other baseball leagues than we do right now.

Hey Chicago, Whataya Say? Cubs Are Going to Blow It Late Today

So far in this season, the Cubs have lead in all five games. They have lost three. Luckily, the season has just begun, so I am so enthralled by the fact that baseball season is underway, that I’m not far enough in to become depressed about the Cubs yet. I feel like their off-season was pretty mediocre, though I think Marlon Byrd was a good pick up, and its hard not to be excited that we got rid of the dead weight that was Milton Bradley (enjoy him, Seattle!). If we can stay injury free, we could have a solid team. That said, as the first season under our new ownership, I don’t see a World Series in our future. Not a bad team by any stretch, but D-Lee and A-Ram aren’t getting any younger, and we certainly haven’t gotten BETTER as a team. Maybe if we had managed to hold on to Harden, but that just didn’t happen. Hopefully everyone will be invincible, and Kosuke will break out and have the great year he is capable of. Gotta love that OBP last year, but that AVG needs some work.

This Isn’t The Year

Cubs fans have the habit of being optimistic, even in the face of complete team destroying turmoil. We persevere no matter what is thrown out of our way, believing in our hearts that at the end of the year, our Cubbies will finally break the curse and win our first World Series since 1908.

I’m not one of them. I am a die-hard Cubs fan, and will watch every game I can even if they’re fifty games below .500 at the All-star break, but the first sign of danger rings in my brain as loud as a fire alarm. We could get swept once and I would immediately resort to thinking we’re done. Oh well, maybe next year.

It may be a bit premature to assume the worst of the 2009 Cubs. We are only one game over .500, but we’re still second place in the NL Central. Everything started nicely, with the Cubs being the only team in the league to begin the season without a player on the disabled list. Since then, though, injuries have been an issue. Aramis Ramirez is down, Carlos Marmol is down, Geovany Soto went down briefly with a sore shoulder (and hasn’t regained his swing since returning), and to make things more fun, Derrek Lee left after one at bat in todays game against the Cardinals. Apparently it was due to neck spasms.

All of the aforementioned Cubs are being called day-to-day, and none are presumed to end up on the disabled list, but it still doesn’t feel like a good sign. These are the kind of injuries that nag. I think Derrek Lee is on the downward slope of his career to begin with, and if neck spasms are going to become an issue, it might come quicker than we’d like.

Is there hope? Sure. What is it? Well… Kosuke Fukudome has to keep up being the phenomenal hitter we all know he is capable of being. Soriano has to stay healthy and keep coming through for us in the clutch. Micah Hoffpauir has to swing the bat well, and likely for power. Most of all, though, our bullpen has to stay together. The only way I see salvaging a good season, though, is to make a deal for some more bullpen help. Even assuming that all of these injuries turn out to be minor, our bullpen just makes me nervous. Neal Cotts hasn’t been throwing well, Gregg has all ready blown a couple saves, and Marmol is now having a little bit of injury trouble. Its hard not to be nervous about it all ready.

The Comeback Cubbies

With their second comeback win in as many games, and against the Cardinals, the Cubs have me pretty excited right now. At 7-4, its still too early to make any bold predictions, but if we win against the Redbirds again tomorrow, we’ll take the lead in the NL Central over the same St. Louis team, and continue the season without having lost a series.

Its not all a bed full of roses. Derrek Lee has looked a bit sluggish so far in the season, with a .217 average through these 11 games. Our bullpen is sketchy, although Marmol has been excellent despite allowing his first run of the season today, and Heilman has been solid. Ryan Dempster has had trouble early on with a 5.00 ERA, and Soto hasn’t found his swing since returning from the shoulder injury.

On the other side, though, there are some Cubs who are doing very well so far. Fukudome is continuing where he left off since my last writing, with a .375 AVG and 10 RBIs on the year. Ryan Theriot is swinging a hot bat, with an even .400 AVG.

Although I suppose the ends justify the means in baseball, I have to call out Lou Piniella on something today: leaving Carlos Marmol in for two innings. He came in after Cotts put the Cubs in a tough spot: two men on, no outs, and managed to get out of it with no damage. For whatever reason, Lou left Carlos in for a second inning, at which point Marmol allowed the tying run and didn’t get an out.

Now, you can’t predict results. It may have been a matchup thing, but the facts to me indicate that you should be throwing your middle relievers out for two innings this early in the year. Marmol, being the best arm in our bullpen, has been getting frequent use, and will continue to be depended upon throughout the season, and putting him out there for two straight innings is going to take its toll in the long run, even if it doesn’t result in extraneous runs as it did today. There needs to be a balance between knowing Marmol is the guy we need out there in pressure situations, and letting him rest when needed. We don’t need his arm to fall off by the All-Star break.

This is the year?

Fukudome01.jpgThe past few years under Lou Piniella have been interesting, to say the least. The Cubs have won two consecutive division titles for the first time, and been swept in two consecutive playoff series for the first time. Every year, the Cubs fan base claims this to be the one when we’re going to win it all, but I’ve been bleeding Cubbie blue long enough to doubt it.

The first question to ask is: Are we a better team than we were last year? On paper, it looks to me like the obvious answer to that is “no.” We lost Mark DeRosa, Kerry Wood, and Henry Blanco in the off-season, among others, only to end up with the spotty and injury prone Milton Bradley, and a scrub for a closer

We have question marks all over the place. Our bullpen is borderline awful– the only notable being the phenomenal Carlos Marmol, who many (myself included) think should be closing for the Cubs right now. We’re not really sure what to make of the back end of our starting rotation either, with Marquis not around any more, Sean Marshall looks like he has finally been given the permanent post, but it remains to be seen how he will handle it when he really gets into the thick of the major league season.

The biggest question mark, however, is Kosuke Fukudome. He started last year quite well, going into the All-star break with a .279 AVG, and a lovely .383 OBP. Every month for Kosuke was worse than the last, however, reaching his nadir with a .178 AVG over September and October, a total .217 AVG in the second half. He looked lost at the plate, a completely different presence from the patient and consistent hitter of the early part of the season.

My gut tells me that Fukudome will right his ship, as it were. The seasons in Japan are significantly shorter than the ones in the MLB, and he had to adjust to the stamina requirement of a longer season, while still trying to figure out MLB pitchers (as well as dealing with the MLB pitchers as they began to figure him out.) He is off to a great start so far this year, with a .417 AVG and .533 OBP through 7 games.

The Cubs have won their first two series, and with the first game of the third all ready in hand, things are looking good so far. Its hard to make predictions in April, but we just need to get to the playoffs, and then see what happens. All bets are off once you get to the post-season, and frankly, we couldn’t do any worse.

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