Posts Tagged ‘chicago cubs’

Sweet sweepiness – Cubs v. Astros

The write-up says that Wandy Rodriguez didn’t have his best stuff last night, but I think that he DID have his best stuff last night. Unperturbed in appearance after 7 innings of solid work–Wandy’s fastball jumped from his hand, the usual 90 mile per hour straight shooters that somehow by dint of location and delivery seem to travel at a much quicker 94 miles per hour or so. The curveball that curves above the strike zone but never lands there.

I guess Wandy disagrees with me as Brad Mills reported that Wandy told him that his fastball told him that he was a little under the weather–and I’ll admit I wasn’t glued to every pitch as I’ve got a life to live here after all–but I was very satisfied with the work.

And the results! 21-23 feels alright with me. Now on to the Jose Altuve’s All-Star bid. The Pocket Jaguar must play in Kansas City! (Nice logo, BTW, All-Star game graphic designer….)

It’s a tired adage that slumping hitters just need a few easy ones to fall in to get their confidence back. But if the adage happens to true despite its fatigue, then J.D. Martinez had a confidence-boosting night. His triple in the fourth inning is a true scorecard-defier, as Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney and right fielder David Dejesus combined to completely horse up a catchable high short pop-up when Barney, like a retriever pursuing a tennis ball, bounded heedlessly into Dejesus’ ball-filled glove head first and knocked it free. There should be a special asterisk-esque symbol for hits that should have been outs if any other team besides the Cubs were in the field. The & is a decent visualization of the path that Barney took to the ball.

Good teams beat the teams that they should beat, and the Cubs are worse than the Astros so we should have beat them. I’m not saying we’re a great team, but we aren’t a lie-down team that succumbs to even the dregs of the league. Just not being the dregs of the league feels superb. You can have your two-out-of-three, Texas, honestly. You’re a great team, we aren’t gonna beat you. But Cubbies, we’ll sweep you good, because we have a good bullpen and youthful exuberance and a patch of talent where there was thought to be none.

Astros Win: Bogusevic Beats the Cubs With a Game Winning Grand Slam!

Carlos Marmol didn’t know what to throw. In the bottom of the ninth inning, down by three with the bases loaded, the Cubs erstwhile closer blew a few fastballs past pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic, then fooled him with some sliders. With the count at 2-2, Marmol threw him another fastball. The bases were loaded and the Cubs were up by three when Bogusevic started his workmanlike swing. When the ball bounced of the standing room only seats near the gas pump, Bogusevic was nearly skipping around the bases, and when he crossed the plate the game was over. Astros win.

I only got to the game in the sixth, with a belly full of fajitas from the original Ninfa’s on Navigation1. I settled in to watch the game around about the sixth with little information and a satiated appetite that had an amazing effect on my overall optimism. I soon learned that both Ryan Dempster and Brett Myers had pitched their way into that inning, though Dempster’s Cubs held the 4 to 1 advantage.

Not a dissimilar proceeding from last night’s 4-3 result, but for the relative experience of the game’s starters. Experience, for the pitcher, is probably one of the most subtle, yet most impressive aspects of the game of baseball. That a pitcher who has lost many miles per hour off of his fastball can continue to pitch well is a testament to the importance of deception as well as power. Dempster loses very few pitches to the middle of the plate, and all of his pitches wrinkle or shimmy away from the plate. Don’t get me wrong, he is not Greg Maddux. But the Dempster who came up throwing in the mid-90s is no more, and in his place is a spinner baller with a pitching motion to veil his stuff as long as possible. Speaking of which, the glove twitch the Dempster started a few years ago to supposedly keep him from tipping his pitches must also lend him a cardsharp’s sense of security behind the distracting flutter of the unused hand.

Dempster outlasted Myers by a few hitters, and in the top of the 8th, Myers’ replacement Wilton Lopez gave up a couple of ringing shots to Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena. A hanging slider inside to the former, who homered to bring the Cub lead back to 3 and cancel out the effort of Shuck, who scored after hitting his own double in the previous half inning.

In the bottom of the 9th, JB Shuck ignited yet another rally, this time with a single through the right side off of Carlos Marmol. He took second base on a passed ball from Marmol with Barmes up. Barmes would single himself, and provide Matt Downs with a chance to tie the game with a swing. “Hang a slider, hit one into the seats, and we’re tied,” said Jim Deshaies. “It’s that easy.” Downs swung at and missed a couple of hittable sliders, then took a walk from the wild Marmol. He passed the work down to Brian Bogusevic.

Staying Centered

Bogusevic has a soft spot for dead center field, where both of his major league home runs have fallen.

More Heat from Wood

Kerry Wood, slimmer than he was when he struck out Derek Bell and others 20 times a million years ago, pitches with both experience and power. Well aged composure with a hard, straight fastball and calm, devastating slider to match. It’s true that the Astros can’t hit anybody these days, but at least Kerry Wood in his several appearances seems to quash every Astros effort at a rally legitimately rather than by default.

Rookie Notes

I didn’t see much of the game, as I noted above, but in the innings I saw, JB Shuck flashed his Mattingly-esque crouched lefty swing and hit a long double and a . Shuck doesn’t look to hit many home runs, but sound fundamentals suggest he could manage a late-Erstad-like presence at the plate if given 50 percent of an opportunity.

  1. For what it’s worth, the fajitas lack some X factor that used to keep them up there in my top five dishes of all time. Now they’d be lucky to crack the top fifteen.

Astros Lose 4-3 In Game 1 of the Cubs Series

One of my favorite pastimes when I find myself in conversations with a British person over a drink is to discuss the difference between American and European sports. I found myself in just such a whiskey-warmed scenario this past weekend–explaining, perhaps, my glossing over of the Dodgers series, despite my newfound love of LA–talking to a visitor from England who had just gone to an Astros game. He noted first that baseball fans were a distracted bunch, socializing pleasantly when our English counterparts might have been chanting two-hundred-year-old epithets and pressing each other against chain link fences. The other observation my new English friend offered was that baseball stadiums feature no home-and-away crowds and the requisite sense of rivalry that such arrangements engendered. I reminded him that there are not thirty-six teams per metro area as in England, therefore each schoolchild isn’t rooting for a different team. He was shocked that a visiting fan could come to a place like Houston wearing the colors of the visiting team and face no retribution, assault, or lambasting whatsoever.

The Cubs offer a fine example of this cultural divide. Every time the Cubs play in Houston, they flock to Minute Maid Park to support the team they grew to know by watching cable TV. The Cubs, for all of their futility, infuriate fans of middle range teams like the Astros wherever they travel when their fans tip the color palette strongly to primary blues and reds in away stadiums. If any volume of Astros fans do a thing about their quiet ire, I’ve never seen it. If a Yankees fan ventures down Yawkey Way bedecked in pinstripes, or a Dodgers fan flaunts his wares in San Francisco, a scuffle seems possible, but it’s hard to imagine an Astros fan working up the kind of deep-rooted, block-to-block, ingrained distaste for a visiting fan to make it into a thing.

That said, the Cubs are hardly big boys on the block these days. Their fans in blue and ours in–as far as I can tell and myself included–mostly retro stars and Hs are cheering to drown out the sound of pity from across the MLB. Henry Sosa faced Rodrigo Lopez.

Sosa, for his part, will continue to learn that fat pitches to good hitters will lead to hits. Aramis Ramirez, still a fine slugger even if attention paid him has diminished, was more than happy to teach Sosa that lesson early on in the match against the Cubs by ripping a quick single on a pitch right down the middle. Carlos Pena played teacher’s assistant by leaving a divot in Tal’s Hill just out of reach of the climbing, diving Jason Bourgeois. Those fat fastballs gave the Chicago Cubs a two-run lead over the Houston Astros before the home towners had a turn at the plate. Should Sosa learn to throw his pitches a few inches one way or the other of the middle of the plate, he will have marked success. The natural break on his slider already takes it away from the worst danger. The fastball tends more heavily to Main Street, but when it finds the alleyways and back streets, it’ll shine.

The Astros finally struck when Matt Downs dropped a single to right in the fourth inning and challenged the lean right fielder Tyler Colvin to make a throw to second. That throw bounced away from Darwin Barney, and J.D. Martinez, who had singled, scored easily. The aggression that led to the run led to Downs poorly deciding to attempt third on a fly ball tag-up to center field. He was thrown out immediately, committing one of baseball’s cardinal sins.

As he did in his first major league start, Sosa settled in after a tough first inning, veering away from the aforementioned danger, in the end holding the Cubs to only a few runs for a while. Then, a tough 6th inning put the pressure on the Astros to score more than their typical one or two runs.

In the bottom of the 6th, J.D. Martinez (see more on the many of his successes below) was involved in an at bat that defined a rally when he worked the count to full after hitting some effective foul balls, and a near double down the line, only to take a walk from Rodrigo Lopez before Matt Downs–who my wife said looks like Toby from The Office–did his Morgan Ensberg impression–my choice for his body double–when he drove a ball to left center field to drive in Martinez and Jose Altuve and bring the Astros within a run.

Astros relievers were able to escape catastrophe in the 7th when Fernando Rodriguez busted in on Reed Johnson with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the 7th, inducing a pop out. The score held at 4 to 3 in the Cubs favor.

No more runs would score for the either side, and that includes the trailying Astros, whose hitters failed to stick it to Jeff Samardzija in the 7th inning; in the 8th inning, J.D. Martinez led off the inning with a strikeout against Sean Marshall’s evasive curveball, El Caballo dinked an out up the middle, and Downs failed to repeat the power stroke of the earlier rally, sending the game to the ninth with the Astros needing a run to tie the game.

In the crucual bottom of the ninth, down by a run, Michaels, Paredes, and Quintero couldn’t cool the Kerry Wood burn, and the game ended. This was a good loss. The game was well-played. We hit the ball, they hit the ball. We pitched well, they pitched well. In the end, the math was in their favor.

Hello, Starling

Starlin Castro has a trebuchet of an arm, propelling the ball across the diamond on a trajectory that could dent a brick wall. Castro seemed to field the lion’s share of plays through the first three innings, each throw of which beat the runner to the base by parts of a second. 1 Castro showed his youth, though, when he booted a very simple ground ball hit to him easily by Jose Altuve. Castro

The J.D. Way

JD Martinez hit a single in the first, a fine line drive up the middle, and another in the fourth. I’ve coronated the young man already, but many hoped that Chris Johnson would’ve proven himself sufficiently in the second half of last year to last at the major league level. Now he’s creaming Triple-A pitchers. Martinez does not hit as though he is a fluke. He hits balls to the opposite field, and he takes a walk. His success isn’t dependent on only home runs or only infield singles, but on a varied palette of flourishes.

Making his Mark

A closer’s stuff is often judged by his fastball, and the velocity therein. The odd great closer earns his paycheck with an offspeed pitch. Those that come to mind are Trevor Hoffman and his change up, Brad Lidge and his slider, and probably twenty more. Tonight, even in a game the Astros trailed by one during his appearance, Mark Melancon showed a big game curveball, with a hard drop close enough to 90 degrees to justify a protractor. Combine the Uncle Charlie with his unnerving cut fastball, and Melancon may well possess the two-pitch arsenal that a closer needs to succeed.

  1. The strong fingers and wrists that make those throws also enable him to swing the bat prettily.

Summer in the City: Astros Drop Third in a Row to the Cubs

When the temperature nudges up towards three digits in hottest days of the summer in Chicago, the pace of the city slows down and the bleary population forgets the joy of the Spring thaw and leans towards the cold expanse of Lake Michigan like the beaches have their own ethereal gravity. Heat waves ripple where the lake meets the horizon, and the buses crawl along Lakeshore Drive like big dogs panting in the heat. In Houston, by the way, that’s what we call just another Sunday: we close the roof and turn on the A/C.

As the sun sets on such a summer day in Chicago, the city ticks like a big 70s sedan that’s just been parked in the shade along Foster Ave. The angle of the set casts an orange light, not unlike the hue of a game used Major League Baseball with a tint of ballpark dirt. In fact, if a baseball were hit in such a way that it passed between that setting sun and someone trying to catch it, like, say, a right fielder for the visiting Astros, that baseball would sure be tough to see, much less catch. Hunter Pence looked fine in the light of that sun. The picture of youth and vigor, a tonic for the torpor of the summer city, racing to meet the path of the sun-dappled baseball. Until, of course, he looked to Michael Bourn to solve his terrible problem: he had lost the ball, and he was lost, and the game would soon be lost.

This Sunday, July 24, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, fans waved promotional fans shaped like cartoon hands, which they fluttered around the edges of the TV image of the Astros-Cubs game like horseflies. The Cubs themselves had a little extra starch in their pinstripes given their two-game winning streak against the Astros. I missed the first two day games of the series, each of which floated past my attention in the brightness of summer like a weekday lunch hour. By the time I caught up, the Astros had hit some 27 singles without an extra base to be had. Sunday, Clint Barmes ended the streak quickly enough, sending a Matt Garza pitch over the wall in the first inning, from whence it was returned to sender as per tradition, though the sun baked fans would’ve been forgiven if they hadn’t taken the effort. Trading runs, this was a game, a worthy battle between Central Division duds, and as even a match up as the Astros can hope for these days.

There was one shining opportunity for the star of this team, Hunter Pence, of the trade rumors and All-Star game, to provide a lead at the game’s most crucial juncture, when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the ninth inning of a tie ballgame, facing a struggling Carlos Marmol, whose fastball wasn’t its former glory and whose slider seemed to lack the two feet of lateral movement it once had. Pence, in this definitive high leverage moment, struck out on three pitches, flailing at each one like a Little Leaguer facing the big kid who learned how to throw a curveball before everybody else. When Pence looks bad on a pitch, it appears as though he’s forgotten how to play baseball at all, that an accountant has momentarily occupied his contorting, unbalanced body. His dramatic failures can’t help but microcosmically link the team’s overall flailing and the uninspiring weird hacks of its leader.

Which Lyles This Time?

Jordan Lyles allowed four hits in a row in the bottom of the 2nd inning, one of which was a ringing RBI single from .028 hitting pitcher Matt Garza. Three runs answered Barmes’ home run, and it threatened to be a short night for Lyles. But, in the end, he found his confidence and produced a start of some quality. He quarreled with the edges of the strike zone, and the home plate umpire employed a zone as tight as a the Oakleys clamped onto Mike Quade’s face, but there was enough action on Lyles’ change-up, and enough deception on his fastball to prevent another awful inning like that second. Only three runs scored in his six innings, and it was the bullpen that squandered a lead late in the game gained on an eighth inning, 2-run Carlos Lee home run of a fading vintage.

Game Notes

- I was happy to see Jason Bourgeois, even if it was only to pinch run and get caught stealing. I would trade ten Jason Michaels for but a single Bourgeois.

- After he hit a double early in the game, Marlon Byrd looked to somebody off camera, presumably a teammate, and did a quick riff on a tiny, imaginary keyboard, mocked a small baseball swing, then cheered at his mime’s base hit with raised arms worthy of a Japanese anime character. If last year’s trend was the Antler and Claw, let’s home this year’s is this Byrd brand of Comic Con reenactment.

- There was a fellow behind home plate who looked like Joe Torre wearing one of the Astros navy blue and gold caps from the 90s.

- Jose Altuve reached first after burning it down the line for an infield single. Is there a Dynamo-style chant we can start for this guy?

- Michael Bourn is after my own heart. He continues to pepper hits to the left side of the infield. I didn’t see him pull a ball this game.

- Matt Downs is a near ringer for Morgan Ensberg, from his face to his batting stance and the heavy looking bat that he swings.

- The Cubs botched two separate sacrifice bunts that would’ve put runners at third with less than two outs. Both times, the runner was pegged at third rather than first. Deaden those bunts, Cubs! That’s why you suck too!