Monday, April 15, 2013

Welcome back, Kevin Gregg!

The Cubs are having some problems when it comes to closing out games. First, Carlos Marmol imploded and got demoted. Kyuji Fujikawa was then named closer. That lasted about three or four days until Fujikawa developed tightness in his forearm and went on the disabled list.

On Sunday, the Cubs summoned Shawn Camp to protect a 7-6 lead in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants. Camp recorded the first two outs and was one strike away from earning the save. Alas, he gave up a game-tying solo home run to Hunter Pence. Later, he balked in the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. The Giants went on to secure a 10-7 victory.

The Cubs have gotten so desperate for bullpen help that they signed the erstwhile Kevin Gregg to a minor-league contract over the weekend. You may recall Gregg was with the Cubs once before, recording 23 saves in 2009. He also had an inflated 4.72 ERA and contributed to the team's long history of spectacular late-inning meltdowns, much like the one Camp had Sunday afternoon. Along with Mel Rojas, Gregg is a member of the fraternity of crappy Cubs closers.

Nevertheless, we would be remiss if we did not welcome Gregg back to the Cubs organization:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

'Blame that goat!'

A goat's head was delivered to Wrigley Field on Wednesday addressed to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.


The Cubs are in the middle of a terse negotiation with the city and neighborhood regarding ballpark renovations. The team wants to install a Jumbotron scoreboard, among other changes, and wants to increase the number of night games at Wrigley Field from 30 per season to about 40.

I've heard speculation than angry Wrigley Field neighbors might be behind this whole "goat head" incident. Certainly possible, but here's my question: Is it really that easy to find a goat head hanging around Wrigleyville? It's a city environment and there probably aren't too many dead goats available.

Someone who lives in the neighborhood would have had to go to great lengths to pull this one off. Not that I'd put it by them.

Regardless of the source of the goat head, this is a great opportunity to put Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley on this blog for the first time. "I blame that goat!"

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

For those wondering why I didn't pick the Angels to win the AL West...

If you looked at all the preseason predictions, you probably noticed the overwhelming majority of the experts picked the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to win the American League West this year.

Not me. I went with the Texas Rangers. I could be right; I could be wrong, but let me tell you why I did not select the Angels: I wasn't comfortable with their lack of depth in the starting rotation.

I think most people looked at Anaheim's roster, saw Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton all on the same team and figured this club was a slam dunk for the playoffs.

I'm not so sure. When I looked at their projected rotation, I saw the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton.

Hmmm ... OK. Weaver is pretty tough, a legitimate All-Star. Wilson is a little erratic with his control, but he has good stuff. That's a respectable 1-2 punch at the top. But Vargas, Hanson and Blanton? If I'm an opposing hitter, I'm not uncomfortable facing any of those three. I felt the Angels would be relying on Weaver and Wilson an awful lot this year -- not only for wins, but to eat up innings as well.

Well, guess what? Now Weaver is injured. The Angels placed him in the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a fractured elbow on his non-throwing arm. He will miss 4-6 weeks.

The team recalled right-hander Dane De La Rosa to take Weaver's spot on the roster.

What do we know about De La Rosa? Well, not much. He's 30 years old and has a career 10.95 ERA in 12 appearances spread out over the last two years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay is the best organization in baseball when it comes to scouting and developing pitchers. The Rays had a team ERA of 3.19 during the 2012 season, the lowest in the American League in the last 22 years. I figure when Tampa Bay dumps a pitcher, it does it with good reason. So, I question whether De La Rosa will contribute anything to the Angels' cause.

Coming into the year, the Angels were a "Weaver and Wilson and pray for rain" kind of rotation. Now, it's Wilson and pray for rain. And it doesn't rain much in Southern California. We'll see if the Angels can hit enough to outslug their questionable starting rotation. They'll have to if they want to win the rugged AL West.

Of course, anytime we mention Jered Weaver we would be remiss to not include this video. "Are you ready, Weaver?!"

Cubs fans boo Carlos Marmol on Opening Day

The Cubs didn't look too good in their home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field. But then again, what do you expect? This is a Cubs team that lost 101 games a year ago, and it would be a huge surprise if they don't lose about 95 games this season.

Starter Edwin Jackson came out walking people, which is the last thing a pitcher wants to do on a windy day at Wrigley. Jackson issued two free passes in the first inning, one with the bases loaded, and coughed up four runs before the Cubs ever got an opportunity to bat. Milwaukee led from start to finish in its 7-4 victory.

But, the real story with the Cubs right now is erstwhile "closer" Carlos Marmol. Manager Dale Sveum has already made a change in the closer's role after Marmol imploded in the ninth inning in a loss at Atlanta Saturday night. Marmol gave up runs in each of his first three appearances of the season and entered Monday's action with a 27.00 ERA.

The Wrigley faithful let him have it, booing him in player introductions before the game and again when Marmol entered to pitch the eighth inning with the Cubs trailing 7-2. Believe it or not, Marmol did not give up any runs. He worked his way out of a first-and-third, one-out jam and lowered his ERA to 16.88.

Marmol's teammates were not happy with the boos. 

"You lose some respect for the fans," pitcher James Russell said. "It's your home park, they should be behind you no matter what. It's not like he's going out there trying to give up games. He's out there busting his butt every day. Personally, it gets under my skin because that's my teammate. I have his back no matter what. It kind of bugs you whenever you hear that. There's no room for it."

Well, actually, James, there's plenty of room for it. Marmol has been given plenty of chances, but all he's done is continue to solidify himself as one of the more overpaid players in the game. Right now, Marmol is being paid a salary of $9.8 million to pitch the eighth inning in a 7-2 game. I can't blame Cubs fans for being pissed about that guy not earning his money.

The situation is a tough one for Sveum to handle. Marmol is in the last year of his deal, and there's no question he will be playing somewhere else in 2014. Ideally for the Cubs, he'll be playing somewhere else by July of this year.

Thing is, in order to rebuild Marmol's trade value, Sveum needs to use him in high-leverage situations. But, if Marmol is going to continue to fail in those spots, you can't justify giving him opportunities. It's not fair to the other 24 men on the roster. It may be another rebuilding year on the North Side, but it's still Major League Baseball. A manager has an obligation to try to win the games that are there to be won.

Right now, Carlos Marmol is probably the last guy the Cubs would want on the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth inning. At some point, the Cubs might be better off releasing Marmol, eating what's left of his contract and giving that roster spot to somebody else.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Yu Darvish loses perfect game with two outs in the ninth

Texas pitcher Yu Darvish turned in one of the more dominant performances you'll ever see Tuesday night against the woeful Houston Astros, but he fell one out short of baseball immortality.

Darvish retired the first 26 batters he faced -- 14 of them by strikeout -- but he failed to complete his bid for a perfect game when some guy named Marwin Gonzalez swung at the first pitch and bounced a base hit back up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

I had to look Gonzalez up because I had never heard of him before. He's a 24-year-old infielder with a lifetime batting average of .236 in 208 major league at-bats. Now, he's the answer to a trivia question. Darvish settled for a 7-0 victory and joined a list of 10 other pitchers to lose a bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning.

Three of those previous 10 involved Chicago teams:

1. June 27, 1958
White Sox left-hander Billy Pierce retired the first 26 Washington Senators he saw, but backup catcher Ed Fitz Gerald came off the bench to deliver a double and break up Pierce's bid for history. Moments later, Pierce struck out center fielder Albie Pearson to complete the shutout in a 3-0 Chicago victory.

2. September 2, 1972
There are Cubs fans out there who still hate umpire Bruce Froemming, whose controversial call denied Milt Pappas a perfect game. Pappas lost his perfecto with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a full count when Froemming called ball four on a borderline pitch to San Diego pinch-hitter Larry Stahl. Pappas to this day remains furious about the call, but he did complete a no-hitter on this day. After the walk, he induced Garry Jestadt to pop out to end the game.

3. April 15, 1983
The 1983 White Sox were a 99-win team, but on this April day they were baffled by Milt Wilcox. The Detroit right-hander retired the first 26 men he faced before pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston (much like Marwin Gonzalez) picked on the first pitch he saw and singled up the middle. Wilcox settled for a one-hitter, getting center fielder Rudy Law to ground out on the next pitch to conclude a 6-0 Detroit victory.

Here are the other pitcher to lose a perfect game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth: 
Hooks Wiltse, Giants, July 4, 1908
Tommy Bridges, Tigers, August 5, 1932
Ron Robinson, Reds, May 2, 1988
Dave Stieb, Blue Jays, August 4, 1989
Brian Holman, Mariners, April 20, 1990
Mike Mussina, Yankees, September 2, 2001
Armando Galarraga, Tigers, June 2, 2010

Among that group, Galarraga could probably relate best to Pappas. That, of course, was the famous blown call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce. Cleveland's Jason Donald was awarded an infield single on the play, spoiling both the perfect game and the no-hitter. Galarraga retired the next hitter, Trevor Crowe. Much like Pappas, he would probably say he actually retired 28 hitters in a row on that day.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field

U.S. Cellular Field is a notorious hitters' ballpark during the summer months. Monday's game between the White Sox and the Kansas City Royals? Well, the weather wasn't summer-like and it wasn't a good day for hitters.

Don't let the view from my seat in Section 531 (pictured above) fool you. It looks like a beautiful day, but the afternoon will go down as one of the coldest South Side home openers in history, with temperatures hovering in the high 30s and windchills making it feel 10 degrees colder than that.

On days like this, the ball doesn't carry and pitching rules. In a battle of aces, Sox left-hander Chris Sale got the best of Kansas City right-hander James Shields as the South Siders began their season with a 1-0 victory.

Making the first Opening Day start of his career, Sale showed no signs of nervousness. In the second inning, he jumped ahead of Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas 0-2 with two straight breaking balls for strikes. At that point, I realized it was going to be a good day for Sale. He could grab a strike at any time with any one of his three pitches, and he was changing speeds on his slider to keep the Royal hitters off balance.

Sale tossed 7.2 innings. He allowed seven hits, all singles, struck out seven and walked only one. He threw 72 of his 104 pitches for strikes. His one difficult inning came in the third. The Royals loaded the bases with one out and had their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters due. Sale struck out Billy Butler and got Moustakas to pop out weakly to second baseman Gordon Beckham.

The Sox broke out on top in the bottom of the fifth on a solo home run by catcher Tyler Flowers, who at least for one day quieted concerns about whether he'll be a suitable replacement for the departed A.J. Pierzynski.

Sale cruised until the eighth inning when he gave up a two-out single to Alcides Escobar. At that point, Sox manager Robin Ventura went to his bullpen. Nate Jones relieved and struggled. He allowed Escobar to steal second, walked Butler and uncorked a wild pitch. Suddenly, the Royals had the potential tying run on third and the potential go-ahead run on first.

Matt Thornton relieved Jones and struck out Moustakas on three pitches, putting an end to the Kansas City threat. Addison Reed walked a batter in the top of the ninth, but got three outs for his first save of the season.

It was a good start for the Sox, who followed the formula they are going to have to use to be successful in this 2013 season. They got outstanding starting pitching. They played flawless defense, and the bullpen got the job done. I don't expect the Sox to be a great offensive team this year. But one through 12, the South Siders have a good pitching staff. They also have a good defensive team.

It would serve the Sox well to make this Opening Day game a blueprint.

Welcome back, Lars Anderson!

Former Boston Red Sox prospect Lars Anderson is back in the White Sox organization. You may recall the White Sox signed Anderson during the offseason before waiving him early in spring training.

Anderson was claimed by Toronto, but the Blue Jays needed to make space on their 40-man roster for waiver claims Alex Burnett and Clint Robinson earlier this week. So, Toronto traded Anderson back to Chicago for cash.

Thus, we have our first opportunity to play the theme from "Welcome Back Kotter" on this blog.

Welcome back, Lars Anderson!