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Biatches

Last Thursday morning my son repeated this lovely word back to me after he heard me refer to my shoes as “biatches.” I had been explaining to my wife why I needed to replace them, and my son decided he liked the word and happily shouted it back. It’s probably not the first time my son has heard me spout an expletive; in fact, unfortunately, he probably heard me use similar language the day before to describe the Cubs’ lackluster 9–0 loss to an unimpressive Cincinnati ballclub. Returning from vacation is never fun. During my time away from home the Cubs lost two of three in four straight series. After starting 15–6, they had fallen to 19–15, going 4–9 in their last 13 games.

Yes, its quite possible my son heard a few negative words during that stretch, but hearing the word ‘biatches’ from your 17-month old kid kind of gives me a little perspective…

Never bet on baseball

In 1998, it was estimated that $80 to $380 billion per year is wagered illegally on sports. I don’t know how much of that total is bet on baseball, but my guess is it’s not nearly as much as football and basketball. Baseball is simply too unpredictable to bet on, especially on a game by game basis. Too much instability. Look at the past week for our Cubbies: lose two of three to a struggling Reds club, capped by a rubber game where Lieber gives up four HRs in just two innings en route to a 9-0 drubbing.

A day off to think about the game, and then back home to spend the weekend facing the best team in the majors. Would you have wagered on the D-backs series? Did you see a sweep coming? You’re lying.

I didn’t think this club had it in them after five lackluster series in a row, but they did. A sweep of the Snakes and the Cubs are back in first, and percentage points ahead of the Redbirds who dumped their closer after losing four of their last five to the Rockies and Brewers.

So, keep a bookie around if you’d like, venture onto your favorite online site, but, stay away from baseball.

It’s a house game.

Inconsistency

It’s not uncommon this early in the season. The Cubs have certainly had their fair share of it. At times their offense has carried them and at others, their starting pitching powered through. At times their defense has been atrocious and other times, the bats have gone silent. Nothing kills a team more than the closer blowing the ninth, and that has not been a strength so far. It has been eased somewhat by the fact that it’s happening all over the NL Central. Take the Cards In St. Louis with “I’m pitching like a 2nd-grader Izzy.” In Milwaukee with Gagne where opponents are hitting .382 off of him (compare that to Wood’s .183 avg against hitters).

Despite the wobbly start, finishing week six at 22–15 is quite good. I still can’t believe we swept the D-Backs.

Minus / Plus

Minus to: Leiber

Liebs has been better than advertised this year, but Wednesday’s outing was nearly inexcusable. Everyone has a bad game here and there, but four home runs in one inning? C’mon. Lieber should return to the role where he’s excelled this year: long relief. He’s really best used as a change of pace in innings 4–6. That’s obvious now. I also just read that Piniella will skip his spot in the rotation this week…always a step ahead of me Lou…and looks like the young Sean Gallagher will take a few more turns trying to secure that fifth spot. Exactly what I was going to suggest. I like Gallagher so far: he won’t be an instant success, but he has good stuff and is immediately better than Lieber and Marquis.

Minus to: Walks with the bases loaded

When Piniella brings in a reliever in a jam, I’m sure there are all types of situations they discuss before he departs back to the dugout. In a nutshell, two-thirds of the time Piniella could simply say, “let the defense work” or “you can turn two here if you let them put it in play”. Bottom line, though? Cubs relievers have walked way to many batters in these clutch situations. This happened again yesterday when Chad Fox (why did we bring him back for the third time?) entered the game with the bases loaded and immediately walked in two runs. Poor.

Minus to: Road Games / Plus to: Home Games

In recent years, fans, analysts and critics alike have wondered out loud why the Cubs can’t make Wrigley more of a home field advantage for them. It’s packed every game, there are 38,000 people screaming for the club, even in thirty degree weather on a Tuesday afternoon for God’s sake. Yet, the Cubs often have had home records around the .500 mark. Last year, when they won the NL Central, they had 44 wins at home to 41 wins on the road. In 05, they had three more victories on the road then at home with 38 and 41. 2003? Yep, more of the same. On the way to the NLCS they had only 44 wins at home, with 44 of the wins coming on the road. This year may be different. While I’d like to see the Cubbies play a little better on the road (8–9) their 14–6 home record is their best start at home in a good while — last year on May 12, they were 8–11 at home.

Plus to: Zambrano

Haven’t said much about our ace this year. Time to mention him. He deserves it. A calmer Big Z, relying on movement and art instead of overthrowing and throwing tantrums is 5–1 with a 1.80 ERA. Normally sub-par in April, he’s started strong and seems to be finally primed for a consistently good season. We’ll see, but for now, he gets a solid 2ON2OUT Plus.

Plus to: Ted Lilly

On April 14, my column was entitled “Note to Southpaws, please wake up soon.” While Rich Hill clearly did not read Smile Politely that day, Ted Lilly decided he had had enough of losing. Since April 22, Lilly is 3–1 and has dropped his ERA from 7.30 to 5.24. More importantly, he stepped up big time this weekend, setting the tone for the Arizona sweep by pitching seven strong Friday and fanning ten D-backs in the process. Keep it up Teddy.

This week, it’s four against the Fathers who are nowhere near as poor as their 14–24 record suggests. Z squares off against Wolf tonight. Then it’s three more against the Bucs this weekend. Cubs are 6–0 against Pittsburgh so far, 9–0? Probably not, but 8–1 after next Sunday will do fine.