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Long Game

I had to start out the column this week talking about the twenty two inning marathon in San Diego last Thursday. It was the longest game in Major League Baseball since Aug. 31, 1993 clocking in at six hours and sixteen minutes. It ended at 3:21 a.m. CST when pitcher and former Cub Glendon Rusch took a called third. I enjoyed the heck out of the Cubs this week, but I’d have to think twice about staying up until past 3 a.m. for a game in April.

Then again, how often do you get chance to see your leadoff man get 10 AB’s in one contest? Another reason why I love this game: No time. No clock. Just innings, top and bottom.

The Central

Speaking of bottom, looks like that’s where the Houston Astros may find themselves this year. They are dead last in the NL in On-Base Percentage at .296 and are hitting a paltry .229 as a team. Flip to pitching and you’ll find a less than sparkling 4.61 team ERA and see that the league is hitting .289 against them.

Particularly troubling is their bullpen which has surrendered 68 hits in 58 innings.

As I discussed last week, I was hoping the Cubs could gain some divisional ground this week. They did. Start with the Cards cooling off slightly in taking two of three from the Brew Crew and then dropping two of three to the lowly Giants. Throw in Ned Yost’s decision to pitch closer Eric Gagne for the fourth day straight.

Poof!

First place, Cubbies.

Minus (-) Plus (+)

Minus (-) to: Soriano’s Legs

First it was the quad, then the hammy, now this year we have the calf. Soriano wasn’t hitting well anyway and doesn’t apparently care for April much, so if this is going to happen, it may as well happen now. But I’ll tell you this: Soriano’s eight year/$136 million deal is starting to look a little shaky. Hendry did what he had to do last year to get the top free agent to come to Chicago, so I don’t blame him. Sometimes you have to do something like this to show your team and your fans you’re serious about winning. But we have to get more from Alfonso. I look at someone like the underrated and explosive Reed Johnson and his $1.75 million deal and shake my head.

Sori’s got to put in a little more work to prevent anymore trips to the DL.

Minus (-) to: Fukudome ‘Horry Cow’ Shirts

Last week the headbands, now the shirts. These are simply piss poor.

Who buys this crap? Not sure I want to know.

Minus (-) to: Marty Brennaman

Now Marty Brennaman is a well respected, seasoned broadcaster. One of the good ones in my book, but his comments this week were a little tasteless.

“Makes you want to see the Chicago Cubs lose.”

“Far and away the most obnoxious fans in the league.”

“They are still the Chicago Cubs and they’ll still find a way to screw things up.”

“No, they never blame themselves.”

Marty. What are you so angry about? Are you pissed that Dusty Baker has filled half your roster with these “loser” ex-Cubs? Maybe it’s Adam Dunn’s .189 batting average? Ah, wait. It must be Corey Patterson in the leadoff spot, right? What? You don’t like that delicious .258 OBP? Maybe you’re just disgruntled that “Reds Nation” aren’t showing up to watch the exciting 2008 edition? Yes, a few Cubbie fans got carried away throwing a few balls on the field the other night, but this sounded like years of pent up frustration. I hope papa Brennaman isn’t still upset about his son’s dismissal from the Cubs in ‘95.

Relax old man.

Plus (+) to: The Offense

Cub bats put 52 runs across the plate this week in six games. That’s nice. It probably says more about the respective pitching staffs in Pittsburgh and Cincy, but you’ve got to like what you’re seeing from the regular one through eight. How about this for batting averages?: Johnson .354, Theriot .338, Lee .384, Ramirez .275, Fukudome .317, DeRosa .317, Soto .328, Cedeno .350. All this with Soriano on the bench thinking about his “hop.”

Plus (+) to: On-Base Percentage

If you’ve been reading my column, you’d know that I was a pretty huge fan of Moneyball for the On-Base % statistic. I purposely listed batting averages above to highlight the true 2ON2OUT plus for this week. For years, the Cubs have been an impatient offense, full of free swinging sluggers and too many Neifi Perez types. Finally, this year, that seems to be changing.

You want to score 52 runs in 6 games? Get on base. Force errors. Beat out double plays. Work the count in your favor. And take walks. I’m a proud fan this week to report that at the end of week three, the Cubs sit atop in the NL with a .365 OBP.

Now take a look at the same eight ballplayers listed above and how often they’re getting on-base: Johnson .418, Theriot .408, Lee .419, Ramirez .393, Fukudome .442, DeRosa .425, Soto .437, Cedeno .435.

That’s how you win a championship.

Plus (+) to: Piniella’s Patience

He doesn’t have much…and I love it. Cubs are up four and Wuertz gives up a HR and then walks a batter. Piniella’s out of the dugout before the guy is on first base. Have a seat.

Piniella simply knows how to win. I love what he said this week about winning this April vs. losing last April (sic) “I came here after a 96-loss season, I really don’t think the players believed they could win at the beginning last year, then they learned, now they know…”

End of Week Three

Cubs are 11–3 in their last fourteen games and a half game up on the Redbirds and Beermakers.

Up next: Two, two game series against two quality clubs in the Mets and the Rockies. Can the Cubs hit better pitching? Can they continue to pitch well enough to give their offense a chance to win games? Will Piniella trust his gut and leave Johnson and Theriot at the top of the order where they belong? Cubs team ERA is now ninth in the league at 3.93. That’s going to have to improve. Lilly laid an egg again, Hill came around for his first win. Dempster is 3–0. Big Z starts it off on ESPN Monday night baseball tonight.

I’m ready. See you next week folks.

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