Monday, April 27, 2009

Cubs Begin Season with *OUCH* 9-8 Record

Milton Bradley. Aramis Ramirez. Carlos Marmol. Derrek Lee.

Four big time pieces to the 2009 Cubs team. Four necessary pieces to the Cubs' chances of winning the NL Central for the third year in a row. Each one is hurt, but not hurt enough to warrant a stint on the disabled list. Now the Cubs are trying to get through a stretch of games with a shortened bench and bullpen. Injuries are part of the game, but this is somewhat puzzling.

If one of them needed to go on the DL, the Cubs could call up someone from AAA (preferably Jake Fox who is hitting nearly .500 right now). However, all of the injuries seem to be of the 3-5 day stretch (except for Bradley who is available in a pinch hitting capacity). Putting someone on the DL only to find out that they are good to go a few days later would not be good. So Lou Pinella has decided to ride this stretch out as long as he can. Let's hope it works.

The Cardinals are 13-6 to start the season. Get out the World Series banners. Someone please tell Cardinal fans that the season runs through September. If I recall correctly, April 2008 was also dominated by St. Louis, so let's not surrender the crown just yet.

If nothing else, the Cardinals have given the Cubs enough fits to last all season. They are now 3-3 against their #1 rivals, having avoided the sweep in St. Louis by bringing out the big bats for the first time in nearly a week. Fukudome has been outstanding so far, and I'm cautiously optimistic that he'll continue to be productive as the season wears on. He had 10 home runs all of last year and already has four in the month of April. That, my friends, is a good sign.

The offensive woes that the Cubs experienced during the four-game losing streak concerned me a bit, although every team will go through it. I just wish that someone would tell Mr. Soriano that if a pitcher makes you swing and miss at two straight breaking balls in the dirt, that a third (and possibly fourth) is probably coming. At least the "experiment" with having him bat down in the lineup is over. The people who complain and criticize Pinella for batting him leadoff are obviously not Cub fans. His production at the top of the lineup is needed. I don't care if he doesn't meet the prototypical definition of a leadoff hitter. Who the hell really cares??? If batting him leadoff is what is best for the team, then bat the guy leadoff! Plus, his legs are the best they've been since he's been a Cub, so it looks like the base stealing part of his game may be creeping back.

Some Little Tidbits:
Are the Pittsburgh Pirates really in second place with the best pitching ERA in baseball????? Are the Toronto Blue Jays really the best team in the AL East right now??? At least the Washington Nationals are doing what I expected!

Note to David Patton: When you load the bases for Albert Pujols and then throw him a first pitch fastball right down the middle of the plate, he might just hit it out of the country. Food for thought.

I guess Luis Vizcaino learned the hard way not to be late for games and then "half-ass" it when you're on the mound.

Why do I get the feeling that Soriano will see time at second base at some point this year?

Game winning home runs are so fun to watch.

In any event, it's still April - but not for much longer.

Just my opinion.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Respect the Fans ... I Don't Respect the Haters

The rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals goes back long before I was born. For the most part, it is a fun way to enjoy baseball, especially for the followers of each team. The heckling can be fun, and living in Springfield, IL, you see an almost 50-50 split between fans of the two teams. Seeing as we don't even have a minor league affiliate anymore (come on you lazy-ass Springfield bums, support a team!), we look at the two teams closest to us (nobody cares about the White Sox). Most Cardinal fans I know can take some good-natured ribbing, and understand that the Cardinals are not the Gods of Baseball. Most Cub fans I know love how well they have played over the last two seasons, but know that the Cubs are hardly a lock to win the World Series this year.

I respect most Cardinal fans who just like to poke a little fun here and there, then can take it in return when their team looks lousy. Here is what I cannot stand - Cub haters. These are not fans of any one particular team. Many select a rival of the Cubs in order to hate on Chicago. And for what? Does it make them feel superior? I know a few Cardinal fans who predict World Championships every year. I know Cardinal fans who tout the 2006 Cardinals - you know, the team of 83 wins who became the worst team to ever win a World Series - as the Greatest Team Ever. I know people who actually said that Anthony Reyes was a better pitcher than Carlos Zambrano because Reyes won a game in the Series. Really??? Love your team, but come on. Don't let your ignorant arrogance cloud that thing known as common sense.

I like to watch the internet stories in baseball, specifically the ones on the Cubs and Cardinals. I will post on the comments boards, especially the Springfield newspaper board. There are several regulars to the baseball stories, many of whom are fans of one team who heckle the other. I do that, and it's supposed to be in good fun. Unfortunately there are a few bad apples on both sides who try to ruin it for everyone else. While I do notice a couple of loud-mouthed Cubs fans who post often, the arrogance of several of the Cardinal fans on that board gets to a point, at times, where it is so laughable, I can't help but "point it out" so to speak.

PLEASE NOTE: these are serious posts from Cardinal fans. One such recent post suggested that the Cy Young in the National League would come down to Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright. Albert Pujols has already been crowned 2009 MVP. One post stated "Will this team ever lose another game? This is scary!" Another hater said the Cubs would win no more than 70 games and be out of the playoff race by June 15. Come on. I can understand trying to be funny, but these goofs post stuff like this all the time. Some Cardinal fans are predicting a World Series championship because of their recent 5-game winning streak. Oh well. They will keep up the tradition of "Cardinal Arrogance", and I will keep responding as I see fit. But I won't slam anyone because of what team they choose to root for. Unless they are bandwagon fans, but those people don't even count.

The bottom line is this: every team will win at least 60 (well, maybe not Washington) and they will lose at least 60 (yes, Cardinal fans, your team WILL LOSE at least 60 games this year). What the teams do with the other 42 games will determine their fate this season.

Just my opinion.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Looking Back and Looking Forward ...

Disappointment, thy name is Cub Fan.

A number of generations too long to count has come and gone since the Cubs last won a World Series. And while I won't go over everything that has happened in the past 100 years since the last Cub championship (I'm sure enough of the haters have compiled lists over the years), I must say that from my own experience, I've let myself become such a die-hard fan, that I truly live for how the Cubs are going to do from one season to the next. But this wasn't always the way.

I have been a Cubs fan since before I can remember, but my best memory early on was getting to watch Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS in my Fourth Grade classroom. While I was only nine years old at the time, the sight of watching that team fail to win one of their last three playoff games hurt. Boy, if I had only known the ride I was going to go on as a fan of this team!

I was as into baseball as the next kid, which was to say, casually with added interest when the team did well (such as 1989). After the 1994 strike, I lost quite a bit of interest. I still watched the occasional game, but it just wasn't as big as it had been. Actually, pro wrestling had become my number one sport (okay, sports entertainment). Then came the wonderful season of 1998. The homerun chase. The Rookie of the Year with his 20-strikeout game. The unlikely run at the Wild Card. And the improbable win in a one-game playoff to seal the first playoff spot in nine years. Baseball was back, and I was loving it.

Then I came back to Earth. Why? 1999. Another season to forget. And that was followed by an even worse season in 2000. In 2001, the Cubs seemed destined to get back to the playoffs, but a second half implosion left them with a respectable 88 wins but a third place finish in the division. Then there was another sad season in 2002.

Then something happened.

The calendar turned to 2003. The Cubs got a new General Manager, Jim Hendry and a new on the field manager, Dusty Baker. Their young pitchers began to develop. They traded away bad contracts and got back quality in return. They started winning ballgames. their new GM began looking for top notch players to be had for bargain basement prices. Before you knew it, the Cubs had gone from 67 wins to 88 and a division championship. But this was not the underdog squad of 1998 who never really had a chance. This was a team with the best rotation in the league. They were winning. they won a playoff series for the first time since 1908. they were up 3-1 in the NLCS. Then the disappointment came back. Three straight losses, including two at home with their co-aces on the mound sealed their fate.

What may have been even more disappointing was that the 2004 team was far better than that team of guys who were five outs away from a World Series the season before. Greg Maddux was back. Cub killer Derrek Lee was now their first baseman. They nabbed Nomar Garciaparra at the trade deadline. But with only a week to go and a comfortable Wild Card lead intact, it happened again. Disappointment. A team that won 89 games finished in third place.

The disappointment continued in 2005, despite the positives. Garciaparra resigned with the team. Lee was the NL batting champion (and was snubbed in the MVP voting). Mark Prior was healthy for all but a month of the season and won 11 games. Ryan Dempster made a successful transformation to the closer role. But the team won only 78 games. And then it got even worse. Hendry failed to acquire any pitchers, instead sticking with injury-prone Kerry Wood and Prior. Both had short, forgettable seasons. Carlos Zambrano pitched like an ace, but that was the only positive thing in an otherwise miserable season of 2006. By the end of that season it wasn't disappointment anymore. It was disgust. Hendry decided it was time for some changes.

Heading into the 2007 season, Baker was replaced by Lou Pinella. Wood was resigned and would pitch only out of the bullpen. Prior was optioned to AAA, never to be heard from again. And the Cubs went on a spending spree. Acquired were the top offensive free agent, Alfonso Soriano, one of the best left handed starting pitchers on the market, Ted Lilly, the versatile Mark DeRosa and Cardinal castoff Jason Marquis. Aramis Ramirez and Zambrano were extended for several more years. The result? An 85 win team who would win the division but get swept out of the playoffs. There was the disappointment again, but with hope for the future. This team was good, and they were only going to get better. And in 2008, the team won 97 games and gave this guy the greatest experience as a Cub fan ever. Clinching at home against the Cardinals (with Jim Edmonds catching the final out, no less) was sweet.

But then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone again. The best team in the National League looked like little leaguers for three straight games. Bad offense. Bad defense. Mediocre pitching. What the hell happened? And how do you improve in the offseason? I've heard plenty from the haters.

Honestly, I don't care what the Cub haters think. Many are faceless losers who have way too much time on their hands and post anonymous garbage on Cub articles. I've seen some who think the Cubs will win less than 70 games and be out of it by mid-June. How pathetic. Personally, I like debating with the realistic fans of other teams. Unfortunately I know too many arrogant Cardinal fans who can't come up with any new material, so they keep rambling on about 100 years. Or criminal White Sox fans who threaten physical harm to Cub fans just for being Cub fans (and perhaps because we use complete sentences). No wonder that field is called "The Cell".

Well, 2009 is finally here and the regular season is upon us. The Cubs didn't snag San Diego ace Jake Peavy, but who cares right now. They unloaded Marquis and DeRosa (which I still don't understand or like) and made the call not to resign Wood. They became a more balanced team with what appears to be a ton of depth all around, except at third base. They are heavily favored to win the division again. Of course, they were favored to go to the World Series in 2004, so I make no other predictions than to say that this team will take the NL Central again in 2009. After that, we'll just have to wait and see. I intend to enjoy this season as I try to do every year. And I hope to get many chances to stick it in the faces of all the haters, especially those who don't even claim a team. Of course, most of them will crawl under a rock and hide if the Cubs start to run away with things.

Disappointment in 2009? I sure hope not.

Just my opinion.

Friday, April 3, 2009

My AL West Prediction

Why is it that the NL Central has six teams while the AL West has only four? I don't expect an answer, just wanted to point out how ridiculous it is that all divisions are not the same. Anywho, the last prediction I want to make is in the small American League West. Honestly, though, these are all just guesses at this point, so who knows.


4. Seattle Mariners - A full, healthy year from Erik Bedard could make this team good, but there are too many holes for this team to seriously contend this season. Ichiro is still the best leadoff man in baseball, but he has a very weak supporting cast around him. Felix Hernandez is a solid rotation ace, but Carlos Silva is overrated and overpaid, and Brandon Morrow, who bounced around from the rotation to the bullpen, will get the call at closer. This is not a good formula to compete, even in the smallest division in baseball.

3. Texas Rangers - This team will hit, guaranteed. With Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and the highly touted Chris Davis, scoring runs will not be the problem. Three of the five guys in the projected rotation had ERA's of over 5.00 in 2008, and the Rangers' top two pitchers are Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, who have really struggled. Frank Francisco, with five career saves to his name, is their closer, and while he has a high strikeout rate, he lacks much big game experience. Their offense, however, should keep them out of the division cellar.

2. Oakland A's - Here is one of the more improved teams in the American League. Trading for Matt Holliday and adding Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra will give the offense a huge boost. But, trading away Rich Harden and Joe Blanton midway through last season left some big holes in that rotation whish will have to be filled by a number of young, inexperienced guys. Joey Devine could thrive as the closer if he can continue what he started last season (49 Ks in 45.2 innings and a 0.59 ERA), but the key will be getting him the ball with the lead.

1. Los Angeles Angels - This team is not as deep and dangerous as 2008. This team will not win the division by 21 games in 2009. But that doesn't matter, because they will still win the division. The Angels, while losing their dominant closer Francisco Rodriguez to free agency, have added Brian Fuentes to finish games. Jon Garland is gone, but the pitching is still pretty deep, although ace John Lackey has been having some arm issues this spring. Bobby Abreu was added to the outfield, and the rest of the offense, while aging, is still solid enough to keep Oakland at bay.

Just my opinion.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My AL Central Prediction

Continuing with my predictions on the various divisions in baseball, it's time to look at one of the more balanced divisions in baseball, the American League Central.


5. Detroit Tigers - What happened to the dominating lineup that was supposed to win the AL Pennant in 2008? Last year's mega-trade that brought Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit was supposed to get the Tigers back to the World Series, but instead the team began with an 0-7 record and never really took off, losing 88 games and finishing in last place in the division. Don't look for this team to move out of this spot, even in one of baseball's weaker divisions. The starting rotation is in shambles, and injuries have forced them to go with Brandon Lyon as closer. The offense is decent. Cabrera will continue to dominate pitchers and Maglio Ordonez still has something left in the tank, but overall, this team does not look to have improved enough to get them back to a .500 team.

4. Kansas City Royals - This team wants to win. And who knows, they could surprise a lot of people. This offseason, the Royals added relievers Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth and traded for speedster Coco Crisp and power hitting first baseman Mike Jacobs. The rotation is very good and probably a bit underrated, and Joakim Soria is one of the best closers in the league. All in all, this team could push the .500 mark and possibly even third place this year if everyone plays up to potential, but I don't see them as having the depth to be this season's Tampa Bay Rays.

3. Chicago White Sox - While Sox fans may hurl beer bottles at me for this prediction, I think this team did not improve from last season's division championship team. Gone are innings eater Javier Vazquez and outfielder Nick Swisher. Jim Thome and Paul Konerko are still producing but are beginning to show their ages as each of their numbers have declined over the past three seasons. There will also be several rookies getting starting jobs. On the plus side, Carlos Quentin is just getting started, Jermaine Dye still produces at a high level, and Bobby Jenks is a lights-out closer. Mark Buehrle will eat innings, and both John Danks and Gavin Floyd are coming off of stellar seasons. They should contend in what looks (on paper) to be a three team race, but they are an injury away from having some serious problems.

2. Minnesota Twins - They traded Johan Santana to the Mets before last season started and went on to miss the playoffs by a single game. How does this team continue to do this? In any event, this year's Twins may come back to Earth a bit, but they are still solid contenders in this division. The team added Joe Crede, who they felt was worth the risk even though he has been injured in recent years. Their rotation of virtual unknowns are producing, and Francisco Liriano could become another Santana if he can stay healthy. Joe Nathan is an incredible closer (there's a lot of that in this division), and the offense is led by Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Carlos Gomez. this team is good, but health concerns could determine where the Twins ultimately end up at season's end.

1. Cleveland Indians - The Indians improved this offseason by snatching Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa, they have a potential 40-40 guy in Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez is one of the better hitting catchers in baseball, and the pitching staff (despite having Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes) looks pretty solid as well. Travis Hafner needs to stay healthy (as does Wood) for this team to make it to the postseason, but if health is not a concern, this starting staff has the right tools to take this division.

Just my opinion.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My AL East Prediction

While I am not a strict follower of the American League, I do still like to pretend I know what's going to happen, especially with all of the fantasy teams I have joined this year (six leagues so far). Therefore, I will continue with my division predictions and head to the AL, starting off with what should obviously be the toughest division in baseball, the AL East.


5. Baltimore Orioles - Oh, for the love of Cal Ripkin, will this team ever return to its glory days? Methinks it won't be in 2009. Cub castoffs Felix Pie and Rich Hill will not provide much of a difference for a team that has to contend with two of the biggest spenders in baseball. The newly-extended Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts are good cornerstones, so upper management must have convinced them that at some point they are going to try and actually win a few. But I can't see them avoiding another 90+ loss year.

4. Toronto Blue Jays - This team finished 2006 in second place, then fell to third in 2007 and finally planted themselves in the fourth place spot last year which is where I see them staying put again in 2009. Gone is staff co-ace A.J. Burnett, which will hurt. Roy Halladay will still dominate, and B.J. Ryan (if healthy) is a very effective closer. Alex Rios and Lyle Overbay are better than average and will do well, Vernon Wells is GROSSLY overpaid and not earning his keep, and the rest of this staff boasts players who don't exactly stand out as difference makers.

3. Tampa Bay Rays - Last season's Cinderella story will come back to Earth - at least a little bit. The team that produced 97 wins last season will have more competition from the two Superpowers of the division, and nobody will be taking the Rays lightly after what they pulled off last year. Pitching will continue to be a strong point, with starters James Shields and Scott Kazmir leading the rotation, although closer Troy Percival's health will continue to be a question mark. Offensively, Tampa Bay added Pat Burrell to be the primary DH, and his power numbers will be welcome. Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are all back and should provide good core offense. But as good as the defending AL Champions look, I truly feel they will end up a game or two out of second place (as well as a Wild Card spot).

2. New York Yankees (WILD CARD) - I have never been a fan of the Yankees, and I never will be. But you have to give them credit for seizing the opportunity to fill every hole they had coming into this season. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett give them one of the best rotations in the league, and Mark Teixeira will provide more offensive and defensive production than Jason Giambi. Derek Jeter is still solid, Hideki Matsui is back and ready to be the primary DH, and Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady will be better than average in the outfield. This would have been a tougher call, however the team's best (okay, the team's highest paid) player, Alex Rodriguez, is out for several weeks, and that will hurt, no matter what you think of the guy.

1. Boston Red Sox - Losing Manny Ramirez isn't what kept the Sox from winning the AL pennant last year. It probably helped get them further. From all the reports, Manny had become a cancer in the clubhouse, and his replacement, Jason Bay, can more than make up the offensive power the team lost with Manny. The Sox also boast one of the most formidable rotations in baseball with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka leading the way. Bay, along with reining AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz will lead a potent offense. They do have the overrated, overpaid J.D. (or is it D.L.) Drew, but that won't keep them from taking this extremely tough division in 2009.

Just my opinion.