Monday, April 30, 2012

4/28/12 Chicago Cubs 2, Philadelphia Phillies 5

Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA
Game 2 of 4

Cubs fans, it’s time for some counseling…Randy Wells just might not be “the guy.”
Many were shocked, but most were not surprised when Wells didn’t make the Opening Day roster and instead was shuttled to AAA. The adage goes “you can’t have too much pitching,” and the adage has inspired many to write volumes about it. The fact of the matter is, the Cubs had quite a few options and they exercised what could be considered one of many potential scenarios, more than a handful of which don’t include Randy Wells starting in Chicago this season. When Ryan Dempster went on the DL (hey, he’s getting old, this is going to happen) I was just as hopeful that Randy’s return to the Cubs would be an opportunity for Randy to prove that he’s still in the running to be “the guy” he was in 2009 and 2010, with a combined ERA of 3.70, 1.343 WHIP and 117 ERA+ with 2.28 SO/BB. Setting hope aside for the moment…he’s not “the guy.” I’m starting to believe, as much as I don’t want to, that he probably never will be.

Wells looks sharp for three innings, more or less the entire batting order. His trademark sinker and “surprise” slider elicits 2 line outs, 2 groundouts, 3 swinging strikeouts, 2 pop ups, one BB and one HB. In the 4th, Wells is in trouble with a lead-off double by Hunter Pence, walks Jim Thome, and at that point, ball after ball starts hitting the dirt and the Phillies have officially got his number. Wells faces 8 batters, allows 3 hits, walks three, and is lifted when 4 runners cross the plate and Welington Castillo is tired of looking at dusty baseballs.

3 cheers for the Cubs bullpen, who keep the rest of the game close and only allow a solo HR by the amazing Carlos Ruiz* but the damage is done and Wells’ 4th keeps the Phils ahead of the Cubs for the rest of the game.

(*) – Of course, Ruiz should be heralded more as an excellent Catcher, and I’m not saying he isn’t, but here’s my vote to elevate him to a higher status of regard…Ruiz takes a Bryan LaHair foul ball right in the spot on his knee where the ‘backstop armour’ doesn’t cover well and rolls on the ground in pain for what seems like several minutes. Just as Len and Bob are speculating on whether or not they’ll see Ruiz behind the dish for the rest of the game, he shows up for his lead-off AB in the bottom of the 6th and demonstrates his physical well-being by taking a 2-2 fastball by Michael Bowden over the left center field wall. Yes, Carlos Ruiz is just fine!!

The question now for the Cubs is certainly not “how will Wells do for the team in 2012,” but probably more like “can we flip this guy by All-Star break?” Dempster will be back soon, Wells will more than likely return to AAA, and perhaps the next DL call-up will be Travis Wood…perhaps not, this could be a case of “small sample size” and Wells may be able to get himself out of his pitching funk yet. But this fan is no longer on that bandwagon, now I have to believe that Randy’s done what he can for the Cubs, and that someone else is going to have to be offered the chance to be “that guy” for the Cubs.

That being said, I owe Joe Blanton an apology.
Remember last year when the Phillies had the “best rotation in baseball,” and some of us chuckled snarkily to ourselves when Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, and Hamels were followed by Blanton? You don’t? I was one of those chucklers. Tonight, Joe pitched 7.1 innings of amazing baseball…he is really damn good, and I’m more embarrassed that I ever laughed at him than I am to admit I was really wrong about him in the first place. Setting 2011 aside, Joe Blanton is doing better this season than he ever has before, and maybe this game is another “small sample size” demonstration of his talent, but all the same, he made Randy Wells and the Cubs look a little bit also-ran.

All that goodness, Michael Bowden looks great!!!


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Monday, April 23, 2012

4/21/12 Cincinnati Reds 1, Chicago Cubs 6

Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL
Game 2 of 3

I don’t mean to sound like a religious freak, but I prayed for a good start on the behalf of Paul Maholm this morning.
Hey, I’m not kidding. I really did.

One of the brightest moments of the Cubs’ somewhat snarky off-season signings was their acquisition of Paul Maholm from the Pirates as a free agent. Don’t ask me to provide any splits or spray charts, but I like Paul Maholm. As a guy, as a player, and as a pitcher. I like his stuff, and I like his attitude. I’m less surprised the Pirates let him go (free agency; it is what it is) but more surprised the Cubs were able to pick him up. When the Cubs pick up a great pitcher from the Pirates, you’ve gotta say “hey, that’s great.”

In 2011, the Pirates pwned the Cubs; with Maholm on the mound the Pirates were 2-2, Maholm was 2-1 with a no decision…some of us are still rubbing our eyes after his CG shutout of the Cubs at Wrigley on 5/28/11. Cub fans know he’s pretty good, and we also know better than to hold our breath until something better might come along. A 4.36 ERA, 96 ERA+, 5.5 SO/9 and 1.85 SO/BB in 7 seasons with the Buccos is definitely nothing to sneeze at. He has great stuff, he seems to have recovered from his shaky 2010 season, and he really really is a great person. A hard-working, honest pitcher.

His first 2 starts for the Cubs this year were kinda rough, and while it’s too early to write off anyone’s success (or lack thereof), I realized that his record against the Cubs last year notwithstanding, in 26 starts for the Pirates last year, he never once faced the Reds. Call it something special in my coffee, or a bright notion in my heart, but I thought it best to give some thanks and ask for a positive outing for Maholm today…not to set any record straight (I don’t need that), but to give him and the Cubs a boost of confidence while they wade through the first few weeks of what is looking to be a season that is every bit as dismal as most of us could have imagined. I mean, what can it hurt?

After the Cubs graciously afforded Homer Bailey the opportunity to reflect upon his performance and feel like a good pitcher in Game 1 of the series, the Cubs came back and helped Paul Maholm (and the rest of the team) clear his cobwebs with a well-played win. Maholm pitched a season-high 6 innings, allowing only 4 hits, 1 ER, 3BB and 5K. Maholm starts with another shaky 1st inning, but settles down to keep the Reds handcuffed.

The Cubs broke out of their spell with 20 total bases, going 5-15 with RISP. Only Blake DeWitt and Ian Stewart fail to score a runner. The Reds, on the other hand, go 2-10 with RISP and can’t seem to figure out Maholm or the lukewarm Cubs bullpen. The big surprise for me was the unlucky outing of Cincinnati’s Mike Leake…he doesn’t seem to be the guy he was 2 years ago, and while I did pray for Maholm’s success, I may have sealed the deal by choosing Leake over Maholm in Pitch or Ditch…but that’s OK, my conscience is clear. Leake’s 5 ER are the most runs he’s ever allowed vs. the Cubs in any of his 8 career starts against them.

The wagon is still broken, there are lots of things happening (and not happening) with the Cubs this year, but today…you couldn’t get the smile off of my face with a blowtorch. That just isn’t going to happen.


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Saturday, April 14, 2012

4/13/12 Columbus Clippers 2, Louisville Bats 4

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, KY
Game 1 of 4
Bats Home Opener

Happy Home Opening Day!! I return to the familiar confines of Louisville Slugger Field for another season of baseball in the Allergy Capital of the U.S., and on a Friday the 13th, no less. The Louisville Bats are struggling to start the season, returning from a 2-6 road trip to begin 2012 under the new management of David bell. The Bats are at the bottom of the International League in AVG (.193) and OBP (.265), are only better than the league-worst Syracuse Chiefs by a run in Runs Scored (26) and a few points in ERA (4.77), and are tied with the Charlotte Knights for the league-worst Runs Allowed (38). 8 games is a fairly modest small sample size, and there is plenty of time for improvement, but the cloud that is looming among the others over Louisville today, is they open a 4-game series at home tonight against the 6-2 Columbus Clippers, the AAA National Champions of 2011. However, the Bats were 12-9 against the Clippers last year, and 9-2 at home. Leave it to a few Bats veterans and a couple of new guys to hold their own. The Clippers got on the board first, but Chris Valaika sealed the deal in response.

RHP Chad Reineke got the home opener start against Columbus LHP Scott Barnes, whose violent delivery was interesting to behold…every pitch he threw looked as if his shoulder was promptly separated upon release. And he did this 96 times. OUCH!

Here's some video I shot of Barnes' delivery...

Reineke pitched to great contact by the Clippers, with 2ER, 7 hits and 2 Ks in 4.2 IP, walking nobody and hitting Matt LaPorta. Barnes was also effective, striking out 6 and allowing only 4 hits and 4ER in 5 IP…but his Achilles heel was in his 4 walks, 2 WP and 1 HB.

By the time the top of the 5th ended with the Clippers up by 2, Reineke had been replaced by Travis Webb and the Bats retaliated against Barnes, beginning with a 1-out double by DH Daryl Jones.

Hold on a second, who is this Daryl Jones guy?Jones was a 3rd round pick by the St Louis Cardinals in the 2005 draft. He spent 7 years in the STL farm system, with a .757 OPS during that time. Jones has never made a Major League appearance, yet was named the organization’s 4th best prospect in 2009 by Baseball America (who was ranked lower than him? David Freese, Allen Craig, and Daniel Descalso). In November of last year, Jones was granted Free Agency by the Cardinals and was promptly signed by the Reds. At 25 years old, the outfielder has an opportunity to boost his big league value by posting a solid season for the Bats, and looked pretty good at the plate tonight, despite the fact that he left a total of 3 runners on base.

With Jones on, he steals 3rd during Corky Miller’s turn in the box and crosses the plate on a Put-out attempt where Lonnie Chisenhall missed the catch from Matt Pagnozzi. Miller walks, Kris Negron is hit by Barnes, and with 2 on and 2 outs, the only way Corky can score from second is on a well-placed poke to the deep left field corner. Valaika goes CLUTCH and delivers this, Miller and Negron both score and the Bats take the lead.

Todd Frazier walks to lead off the 6th, and scores Louisville’s 4th run on a Fielder’s Choice by Jones.

Scott Carroll, my favorite pitcher in 2011, has been appearing as a middle reliever for the Bats this season; in 3 games so far his ERA is 0 and has allowed 5 hits in 4.2 IP with 4 strike outs. Perhaps the biggest reason for his move to the bullpen is due to the acquisition of more seasoned starters Jeff Francis and Sean Gallagher by the Reds during the offseason. Scott looked great tonight, allowing 2 to reach on base on back-to-back hits (a double and a single) with only one out in his first inning of work, but held the Clippers hitless and scoreless after that. J.J. Hoover pitches a 3-up, 3-down 9th inning to earn the save and the Bats win their home opener.

Friday night, Opening Night, and dollar beer night collided for a robust attendance of 12, 108 (8K of which were in their seats for the first pitch, and a little less for when the final out was recorded). The most significant improvement at Slugger Field this year is the renovated Budweiser Scoreboard…gone are the yellow light bulb text displays, replaced by great LCD boards.The main scoreboard, however, still utilizes 1960’s technology for its alpha-numeric displays. This is Minor League ballpark nostalgia in full effect. As if you may not have know, a great deal of the paid attendance NOT in the seats for first pitch were right here, at the Overlook patio.

Photos from the Game:

1st Inning:
Clippers LF (and former Major League hopeful) Matt LaPorta faces Chad Reineke

Scott Barnes on the mound, my attempts to capture his shoulder-seperating herky-jerkiness on camera were unsuccessful, but the memory (ouch) remains...hopefully the previously imbedded video will help you see what I saw!

Bats CF Denis Phipps faces Barnes (Phipps has added some upper-body muscle to his frame during the offseason)

Bats 1B Neftali Soto faces Barnes

4th Inning:
Clippers DH Chad Huffman faces Chad Reineke

Chad Reineke on the mound

Obligatory Todd Frazier photos! It’s good to see Todd back, but I can’t believe he didn’t make the Major League team to start the season. I prefer him in the hot corner (and at the plate) much more than the cancerous Juan Francisco, but I hate it for Todd that he’s still here.

Soto faces Barnes Soto flies out to right field to end the inning, as Barnes traces the ball in the air

5th Inning:
Manager David Bell, Bats C Corky Miller, and Chad Reineke discuss candlesticks on the mound. Bell gets the ball from Reineke and makes the call to the bullpen.

Clippers RF Travis Crowe faces LHP Travis Webb

6th Inning:
Bats DH Daryl Jones faces RHP Hector Ambriz

Miller faces Ambriz, Soto at 3rd base Corky shows bunt???

Ambriz on the mound

Miller walks (second walk of the inning for Ambriz); Bats OF Bill Rhinehart as 1B coach and Clippers 1B Beau Mills Mills is not holding Corky, who is something less than a threat to steal

7th Inning:
Bats RHP Scott Carroll

Clippers 3B Lonnie Chisenhall faces Scott Carroll

Denis Phipps faces RHP Chen-chang Lee Phipps cracks a double to CF

Todd Frazier Todd Frazier Todd Frazier
Swingandamiss Todd Frazier


My guest at tonight’s game was my friend Marty (who was with me when I got the Corky Miller FB last year). Here are the results of the Mystery Rookie Pack pull:

Marty chose the pink wrapper and ended up with a 2004 Bowman Chrome Carlos Quentin RC #202.

I always let my guest choose first, so I got the blue wrapper and ended up with a 2008 UD Timeline Clay Timpner RC #80.

Official Program, featuring new manager David Bell on the cover

Official Scorecard (with Danny Dorn) and Bat Chat

If you enjoy my work, I encourage you to spread the word via Twitter
(I am @yoshiki89), and also please leave a comment!
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