Cubs’ Random Bullpen Generator

The reasoning behind the Cubs’ bullpen/starting rotation moves is finally revealed.

Andrew Cashner is coming to the big leagues. The former #1 draft pick and ex-starting pitcher will be joining the big-boy club as the Cubs travel to their AAAA-affiliate Pittsburgh Pirates. (Yes, I know this AAAA-club has been smacking the Cubs around, they’re still awful.) Joining young Andrew in the bullpen will be everyone’s favorite line-drive-absorbing lefty, Tom Gorzelanny.

Zambrano pitched in relief yesterday and will officially, or at least practically, return to the starting rotation on Wednesday after his abbreviated, tumultuous, and downright bizarre stint in the bullpen. Randy Wells, who pitched only briefly and ineffectively on Friday, will move into Gorzelanny’s slot in the rotation.

Cashner had been effective as a starting pitcher at every level so far this year, as has the Cubs’ other promising pitching prospect, Jay Jackson. But Jackson was recently switched to the bullpen at AAA. Then Cashner was moved to the bullpen and Jackson returned to starting duty. Then they switched lockers and dated each other’s mothers.

Meanwhile, the Cubs got drubbed in two of the three of the weekend games, although they did win easily in Jolly Lord Silva’s brilliant start on Saturday. They really have been all over the place. Silva is good. Wells and Lilly are alternately dominant and dormant. Dempster’s getting pretty homer unlucky. Carlos Marmol is insanely good. The bullpen in general seems to give up either 3 runs or zero baserunners every game. To quote Ron Santo, you just never know with this team.

You never know with this organization, either. In his post-game remarks, Lou expressed his desire to keep the randomness spinning through the lineup card as well, so we should prepare for a brand new look tomorrow. Maybe Geobeepee Soto will lead off. Maybe Aramis will hit bat ninth. Maybe I’ll finally get a chance to hit cleanup.

Personally, I’ll find a change welcome, but the one I’m most interested in seeing is a team other than the Cardinals. I hate that team. They lead the league in annoying fans. Their manager is the devil. Bring on the Buccos.

And until I see some type of consistency in performance or organizational direction, I’ll hereby refer to the 2010 Cubs team as the Wrigley Randoms.

Are You a Real Cubs Fan?

Even facebook thinks fans are stupid. Anything beyond “like” is too much for Zuckerberg.

The Cubs have yet another marketing campaign, although this one is for a good cause. Not that trying in vain to win a World Series isn’t a good cause, it’s just that more conscientious uses of natural resources is probably a better one (though the world is likely to end once the Cubs finally win it all, so maybe there’s some conflict there). The new slogan is “Real Fans Recycle.”

I don’t care to comment on the recycling so much as the use of the phrase, Real Fans. The topic has come up several times in recent days, especially as the Blackhawks bring their increasingly loaded bandwagon ever closer to Stanley Cup junction. A lot of extra-fanatic fans are calling into question the integrity of the newcomers. If the state of Blackhawk fandom were the state of Arizona, the die-hards would be asking a lot of fair-weathers to produce their papers. But is it really necessary to secure the borders of Blackhawk Nation or that of the real fanbase of any other team?

Come on.

I’m no expert on the Blackhawks, but I consider myself a fan. I follow their progress. I watch a fair amount of their games. I want them to do well every year. Hockey is not my favorite sport, mostly because I have an impossible time imagining I could play it. This makes the game a bit harder to relate to, but in no way does it diminish the grandeur of the sport. I’m more impressed by the talent and athleticism of hockey players than those of any other competitive endeavor, no matter how hard it is to see the puck. So, I’m a fan. I like the team. I like their fans, too. But I’m sure a lot of people would call my fanaticism a big frozen block of fail. So be it. I’ll still call myself a fan, though not loudly.

I say this as a die-hard Cubs fan, because as much as I like the team, I find it entirely silly to evaluate the fanhood of my fellow enthusiasts. If you just started cheering for the Cubs in 2003, welcome. If you’re a centenarian on life support waiting for the first World Series championship in your lifetime . . . I applaud you. Loudly. If you just became a fan because of the thrill ride that was the 2009 Milton Bradley saga . . . you’re weird. But you’re no better fan than I. Even if you jump from team to team, commandeering the bandwagon of whichever team wins it all, I can’t wait for you to superficially don the Cubbie pinstripes. You’re all real fans, congrats.

The key to all this is, being called a fan is not a compliment. Take as much pride as you want in being a fan, but don’t expect anyone but other like-minded, affirmation-deprived souls to congratulate you. The reward of being a fan comes in the experience itself. If you cheer for a winner, the victory and its complementary bragging rights are your spoils, but no fan gets to keep them all to themselves. No one can dictate who gets to be happy about a win or sad about a loss, and there’s no extra commendation to bestow upon us poor applauding fools. The sound of our own jubilation is all we get. Well, that and whatever merchandise we care to buy to commemorate our idiocy.

Plenty of fans will argue the existence of some code of honor among fanatics, that their choice of team is something nobler than rooting for the most likely winner. They’re from my hometown. This team is different. They have the cutest butts. They play with heart. They play with valor. They play with themselves. What we really want to cheer for is a team that plays well, and most of us stick with the same team not because we want to be noble but because we want to be right.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the other sports-related fan word: fantasy. Those of us who play fantasy sports will, on occasion, select a player from our favorite team or just a person we generally admire. But when we’re the ones doing the competing, most of us will choose the players we think we will perform the best. We choose practicality over sentiment or we lose. Everyone loves the fantasy sports participants who choose with their hearts instead of their heads. Are they better people? No. Are they certain to lose? Absolutely, that’s why we love them!

So, go Blackhawks. Go Cubs. Go real fans everywhere. But if you’re going around telling people they aren’t real fans, take a moment to make sure you have an actual life. To be a real fan, I believe technically you have to be a real person.

Lost Like Us: Will Cubs Ever Leave the Island?

Lost: Season 102

The series finale of Lost will be taking up two and a half hours of my time on Sunday and is sure to dominate hours of discussion to follow. In that and in a host of other ways, it’s not unlike a typical Cubs game. As any Lost fan knows, pop culture allusions flow like DHARMA-issued wine through the narrative of the cultiest of cult-TV shows: Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the Bible, and virtually any other story about a motley cast of misfits brought together for a fantastic mission. And if that sounds familiar to you as a Cubs fan, it’s because that pretty much describes every team ever assembled to try to bring a World Series championship to Wrigley Field.

It’s a bizarre little way of life we’ve got going here, one artistically rendered on Lost island with eerie accuracy.

So here are some of the myriad ways that Lost mirrors the island of losing on which we’ve all been stranded (watching in eager anticipation all the while).

On Lost: A plane goes horribly off course and crashes in an unfamiliar land in September of 2004 and again in 2007.
At Wrigley: The Cubs’ World Series plans go horribly off course and ultimately crashes in September of every year for the last century plus. (A handful of times it was in October, but who’s counting? Oh, that’s right, I am.)

On Lost: John Locke, previously crippled, is able to walk after his plane crashes on the island.
At Wrigley: John Grabow, previously competent, walks pretty much everyone he faces now that he’s a Cub.

On Lost: Survivors on the island enter the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 into a computer every 108 minutes to prevent the island from imploding.
At Wrigley: Last time I checked my computer, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 were the ERAs of 6 of the Cubs’ relievers, hence, the repeated implosions of wins, and no championships since 1(9)08.

On Lost: Sawyer mocks Hurley’s weight with a variety of condescending nicknames, including Deep Dish, IHOP, and JumboTron.
At Wrigley: At one point or another, I’ve wanted all of those things while watching a Cubs game.

On Lost: Jack’s dad, Christian, swears that the Red Sox will never win a World Series. After the crash, they do.
At Wrigley: People swear a lot as the Cubs fail to win a World Series, and the crashes keep on coming.

Never lose the finger tape, Koyie. Never!

On Lost: Resident rocker, Charlie Pace, tapes his fingers for a dual purpose: a) to look cool, and b) to foreshadow events on the show.
At Wrigley: Backup catcher, Koyie Hill, tapes his fingers for a dual purpose: a) to help pitchers see his pitch signs, and b) to keep his fingers attached.

On Lost: Fans have a lot of theories about what’s going on, though ultimately the show reveals new surprises to keep the fans guessing.
At Wrigley: Fans have a lot of theories about what’s going on, though ultimately the Cubs lose in new and surprising ways . . . and we keep watching.

On Lost: In a shocking twist, Jack, the leader (though not undisputed) of the survivors, joined the Others to help cure their ailing leader, Ben. Then he shot a few people to escape.
At Wrigley: In a shocking twist, Carlos Zambrano, the leader (though not undisputed) of the starting rotation, joined the bullpen to help cure their ailing ERA. Then he blew a few games and escaped.

On Lost: The survivors and viewers alike are given nightmares by Benjamin Linus because of his malicious talent and his big buggy eyes.
At Wrigley: Ryan Braun.

On Lost: Sun Kwan pretended not to know English to avoid getting in trouble with her husband, Jin.
At Wrigley: Sammy Sosa pretended not to know English to avoid getting in trouble with Congress.

On Lost: Walt was all but written out of the show because the actor who played him, Malcolm David Kelley, aged beyond the speed of his 12-year-old character.
At Wrigley: Starlin Castro was called up to the show because he was playing well beyond his 20-year-old age. Coincidentally, he also could convincingly be cast as a 12-year-old.

On Lost: It’s hard to believe the show is finally coming to an end. . . . But it is.
At Wrigley: It’s hard to believe this tradition of losing will ever end. . . . But we do.

Is Aramis Back?

Aramis? Is that you?

After Monday’s walk-off homer, Ron Santo declared Aramis Ramirez back (he has probably said it a half dozen times or so of late). For the record, A-Ram hasn’t really gone anywhere. His bat has been missing. His look of determined competence was nowhere to be found. He appeared to be playing the role of Mike Fontenot’s inept replacement at third base, but Aramis has been in the starting lineup for 36 of the Cubs’ 40 games so far this year.

The hits haven’t been there, though. Aramis has hit safely in just 22 of those 36 starts. Of his hitless games, he drew a walk (just one) in eight of them. He has three multi-hit games; one was opening day. The other two offensive explosions (two hits each) have come in the last five games. It’s hard to say he is back, because he still hasn’t had an extended stretch of productivity. But by comparison, he’s definitely closer to being offensively relevant than he was at the beginning of the year.

Through his first 18 games (including one late-inning replacement) Aramis struck out 23 times in 79 plate appearances for a K% of PMET%*. Since then, he’s fanned just 10 times in 84 PAs, a much improved (and much closer to his career 15.4% rate) 11.9%. So, yeah, Aramis is hitting the ball now.

But on the whole, Aramis is still way off his typical batted ball distribution. He typically hits 19.8% line drives, 35.2% grounders, 45% fly balls (13.4% of which wind up as homers), and 11.5% popups. This year, Ramirez has a line-drive rate of 14.7% (down a bit), groundball rate of 25% (way down), and a pop-up rate of 11.5% (almost exactly his average). The big difference? His flyball rate is 60.3%, a spike of almost 50% of his career average. Now that Aramis is actually putting the ball in play, most of those balls are going in the air. The real bad news: his homer per flyball rate is less than half his career standard: 5.7%.

So Ramirez is back in a sense: he’s not completely lost at the plate anymore. Hopefully he can return to the guy who prefers hard line drives to towering moon shots, because he’s pretty much an out machine right now. In his last five games, he’s slugging .500. For the season: .288.

I like what I’m seeing out of Ramirez right now, and I have every reason to believe his last five games are more indicative of what we’ll see than his first month and a half. We know the guy can hit, and we can see his slump wasn’t permanent. Let’s just hope the resurgence is neither too short nor too late.

*Pretty Much Every Time

Idol Eyes: Top 3

Mighty Casey has . . . 

Three left. Penultimate show. We’re getting short and sweet here.

Casey James
Okay, It’s Alright With Me
At this point, the judges are completely extraneous. I mean, they are always kind of needless on this show because, aside from the one save they get to use, they have no vote. I don’t really think that many people take the judges’ feedback into account when they vote other than as a motivator when they disagree with the reviews. I think they might be right that the song was forgettable, and it fizzled out in a way that left the audience unaware of their cue to clap. But I did think the song suited Casey. It sounded cool. It wasn’t annoying.

Kara doesn’t read my blog, because she thinks Casey’s audience is women and girls. That’s cool. Casey sounds like he’s intentionally trying not to sound like John Mayer. Unfortunately, it very closely resembled Mayer’s live performances: stilted, detached, and full of weird guitar faces. I wanted the song to be over very shortly after it started. Things don’t look good for Casey. Casey, on the other hand . . .

Crystal Bowersox
Come to My Window
This was a much bigger misstep than what Casey did. Crystal finally exposed herself as a mini-version of Melissa Etheridge. But she is, compared to the original, definitely mini. She doesn’t have Etheridgian power, and all that song did was make the gap all the clearer for us. Not good. Not awful, but nothing to remember.

Maybe I’m Amazed
Crystal has sung two of my favorite sing-along songs this year: “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and this. She did much better with Gladys. The pace of the song was all wrong. I’m not sure she got the lyrics right, and her transition into falsetto was iffy at best. That just doesn’t make me want to vote for her. Crystal has backed into the finale.

Lee DeWyze
Simple Man
Lee seems to understand increasingly well what it means to build toward a climactic moment in a song, and he did that pretty well on this song. He also took a big vocal risk at said climactic moment and pulled it off pretty well. I really didn’t expect this much from Lee. He’s having a David Cook type season with less artistry and more aw shucks.

He didn’t sing it as a polka? Darn. No bagpipes? Oh, but hey, the Pointer Sisters, the Pips, the Winans, and Whitney Houston circa ’97. That was all kinds of wow. Probably the most explosive performance of that song I’ve heard. I don’t know if explosive is what everyone wants out of that song, but it was pretty much vocal C4.

Stream of Cubbie Consciousness

Carlos Zambrano belongs in the bullpen like Rod Blagojevich belongs on the Supreme Court.

Over the last week, the Cubs went 2-4 . . . and gained a game on the Cardinals.

The Toyota sign is a commercial, not a story.

Any team that doesn’t pull out all the stops to grab every dollar they can scrounge will show the same lackluster interest in wins.

I can’t stop watching ‘Til Death. It is not funny.

The National League is pretty bad.

Next Sunday’s Lost finale will leave us with a lot of unanswered questions. Most of them will start with “What the . . . “

The Cubs are a better team with Starlin Castro than with Chad Tracy.

Conan O’Brien’s anti-cynical farewell speech was good advice.

The purists said the lights desecrated Wrigley Field. I was one of them. I was 13. Change is good.

If Lou didn’t care, he would have quit a long time ago.

No. He didn’t. Very funny.

Carlos Marmol found the cheat codes for his slider.

Space Giants was a great show.

No sport has been more revolutionized by the advent of HDTV than hockey. I can see the puck now.

Marlon Byrd.

Over 1/3 of one-pitch at-bats result in hits.

Coffee is the quaintest of addictions.

When the Cubs start hitting as a team (and they will . . . this year) they’ll rack up a double-digit winning streak.

The Cubs don’t need a mascot. We are the mascots.

Wrigley Field ambassadors won’t stop fans in the bleachers from relieving themselves in empty beer cups, but they will hand out “not beer” labels.

I overhead a Wrigley bathroom attendant saying he had waited five years to get his current assignment. Heaven help the poor schmuck who inherited his 2005 gig.

Singing “the Cubs are gonna win today” after they win is . . . well, given the state of the bullpen, it’s almost premature.

Top Ten Things Cubs Fans Can Look Forward To

Better cigars = better clubhouse chemistry

The season hasn’t gone all that well for the boys in blue, but there’s a reason the phrase “hope springs eternal” gets used so often at the Friendly Confines . . . and not just because we’re all so darn sarcastic.

Still, that’s one of the primary reasons. So here are ten things Cubs fans haven’t seen yet this year that, while not necessarily qualifying 2010 as the year, would still be kind of awesome.

10. Carlos Zambrano named the permanent Walgreens Bat Boy. 
Big Z has been making a very little contribution since being moved to the pen (just 7 2/3 innings in 7 games in the 21 Cubs games since the switch). That’s just not enough Zambrano for my liking. But that could all change if, as I suspect, Carlos is named the new bat boy. Those kids winning the Walgreens contest just aren’t getting it done, and this move would put Carlos in the action on almost every play. More Carlos. Better bats. This will work.

9. Calling up another Castro.
The dictator can play. Yes, I know his health is failing, but this move isn’t so much about the talent of Fidel so much as it’s about the message it sends to the team. If you don’t start hitting, you and your families will pay dearly. Tell me that won’t work! It sends a message.

8. Ron Santo losing it big time.

Everybody thinks of Ron as a generally happy guy who has overcome quite a bit of physical pain and Cub-related anguish. But this year, the complaints about his focus and disposition have made many wonder if he’s not too old to keep sane in the booth. We’ve heard the historic Nooooo!, so we know he’s capable of having an in-booth meltdown. But if Santo gave us another Brant-Brown reaction, but expanded it into a Lee-Elia style explosion, we’d have ourselves a memory that would last a lifetime.

7. Another sweep at the hands of the Pirates.
Last year, the Cubs owned the Pirates, winning 161 out of 15 games against them. If it hadn’t been for their -79 and 75 record against the rest of MLB, the Cubs would have made the postseason. The Cubs were better than the Pirates last season, and they’re better once again this year. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect the pendulum of luck to keep swinging back in a more Cublike direction. If the Cubs lose six straight to the Buccos, it’ll almost be like Barry Bonds has a normal size head again.

6. Mass Head Shaving
If we ask ourselves, “What would DeRosa do?” (and who doesn’t ask that question on a daily basis?) , the answer will eventually be, Shave our heads to bust out of this slump. It may not be effective, but we’ll feel better about the losing at the very least. Because where there are bald heads, there are smiling faces. I swear on Reed Johnson’s glaring dome, it’s true.

5. A New Logo
The Cubs might change up the unis again, but that’s not what I mean. Even here on May 14, it seems fairly obvious that the And Counting Meter is going to have to roll over to 103. That’s exciting. Right?

4. The Trade Deadline
This is actually completely serious. The Cubs have a plethora of players who may jump at the chance to shed their standard-issue no-trade clauses to skip town to a winner. Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, and Ronnie Woo could all give some contender a chance to take a serious step toward World Series glory and to unload their can’t-miss (or some such) prospects into the Cubs farm system (aka, their current bullpen).

3. Booing the Cardinals in the Playoffs
Remember when Matt Holliday got ro-sham-bo’d by that routine line drive and the Cardinals wound up going down in flames? That was probably the Cubs’ best postseason memory in the last 7 years. Something like that could happen again and salvage 2010.

2. The Wildcard Race
Again, this is completely serious. The Cubs could go 0 for their next 100 games and they still wouldn’t be eliminated from wildcard contention until September 10. No matter how bad the Cubs are or might continue to be, the National League is bad enough that the excitement of wildcard hopes will last a very, very long time . . . and the Cubs have a legit shot at winning that thing.

1. Wrigley Talk Friday
Don’t tell me this is all just some elaborate Top Ten ploy to get me to listen to your stupid podcast! Okay, I won’t tell you that. But, since you brought it up, listen to my stupid podcast, here, in the player on the sidebar, or on iTunes.

Castro Is Fun to Watch. He’s Ready.

He can ride an invisible horse, for crying out loud. What else do you want?

Ryne Sandberg started his Cubs career going 0-20. After his first hit, he went another 12 at-bats before getting his second. That’s a 1-32 stretch to begin his Hall-of-Fame resume on the North side. But he was ready.

Mark Grace made 17 errors in his rookie campaign at first base, enough to lead the National League in that category. That was on his way to four Gold Gloves. He was ready.

Shawon Dunston made 17 errors in his first season with the Cubs (and in just 73 games). In his first full season (1986) he made 32 errors, the most of anyone at any position in either league. He also led NL shortstops in putouts and assists, and the world in Range Factor per Game (by a wide margin). Dunston shuttled between the majors and minors over his first few seasons, and it wasn’t until 1989 that his OPS+ reached the league average 100. But he was ready.

Starlin Castro has committed 5 errors in 5 games, good for a .762 fielding percentage, which I’m told is rather poor. He has also compiled a 1.067 OPS and a 169 OPS+, which I’m told is completely unsustainable. Get that? His fielding is awful and clearly indicative of his lack of maturity. His hitting is uncharacteristically awesome and sure to get worse.

Here’s what I see: Starlin has had a very good start to his shorter-than-Sullivan career, and his fielding percentage is more likely to drastically change than his offensive statistics. He will not continue to screw up in 1 out of every 4 opportunities. He won’t average over a base per plate appearance for very long either, but I’ve seen enough to know his hitting is less attributable to luck than his fielding is to nerves.

Regardless, this kid is a lot of fun to watch. The last I checked, that’s kind of a big part of the reason we like to follow baseball, is it not? It’s fun to see people with talent and/or infinite supplies of scrappiness play this game. Starlin Castro could be one of the five most talented baseball players I’ve seen come up through the Cubs organization, so I want to watch him play. It. Will. Be. Fun.

Obviously one could argue that any more prolonged defensive struggles would be detrimental to the Cubs’ chances of winning. But A) There really is no way he’ll make errors at this rate, and B) I think you have to ask yourself how important winning is to the Cubs right now.

That’s stupid. Winning is all there is. If winning isn’t your goal, you’re not a fan. You’re an idiot! Winning is kind of the point, isn’t it, moron?!? Fire Jim Hendry! Fire Lou! Fire Adam from this piece of garbage blog!

Now that we’ve got that out of our systems (Shutup, jerk, I’m still angry at how dumb you are!), I have a question: how many games do you think Castro’s defense will cost the Cubs over the course of the rest of the season, in combination with whatever gains/losses you expect from his offensive contributions? Go ahead, make a guess, write it down, enter it into your calculator. Now I want you to write down how many games you think the Cubs will wind up winning on the year if they demote young Starlin to AAA right this very moment. Now give those numbers a gander.

If you project the Cubs to win fewer than 85 games without Castro, it really doesn’t matter how many games you think he will cost the Cubs. You don’t think they’re going to the playoffs anyway. In the absence of winning, I’d rather watch a player who has a legitimate chance of doing something truly exciting every time he steps onto the field than, say, Fontebaker. Wouldn’t you?

If you think the Cubs are going to make the playoffs as long as Castro doesn’t hold them back, congratulations, you’re a part of the smallest club in America.

But if you, like me, expect Starlin Castro to actually make a net improvement to this team (maybe a small one, maybe a large one . . . I don’t know), then there’s no way you want to see Castro leave the ranks of the Chicago National League ball club.

Actually, I really don’t care either way. This kid has a chance to be something special, or at least something slightly better than ordinary. I would much rather see him develop before my eyes than read some scouting report about how well he’s doing in Peoria or who knows where. In all my life, I’ve never seen the Cubs even make it to the World Series, and the likelihood that a Castro-less team will do it this year is almost nonexistent. Starlin might not improve those odds, but that’s okay.

Because I’ve had a lot of fun watching the Cubs not win World Series. I have enjoyed watching Ryne Sandberg become a Hall of Famer, Mark Grace become a world-class Gold-Glover, and Shawon Dunston making him earn it. It has been fun seeing Carlos Zambrano try to grow up, Kerry Wood try to stay healthy and filthy, and Ryan Theriot continue to get dirty. Geo’s OBP getting higher than a World Baseball Classic after-party: love it. Carlos Marmol trying to reinvent the strike zone and the laws of physics: love it. Tyler Colvin trying to prove his identity: love it.

So why would I not want to see Starlin Castro go through the growing pains that lead to a more polished, sparkling career as a major-league shortstop? He’s got all the tools to do just that, and I think Cub fans (at least the ones intelligent enough not to boo him the first day they see him in person) deserve a ticket to that show.

The kid is ready. So am I.

Idol Eyes: the Final Four

Batman Forever. Free Willy. The Graduate. Caddyshack. The movies that changed our lives.

I’m so ready for this season to be over. It hasn’t been the worst bunch of singers ever, but it’s hard to remember many of the performances. But we’re at the point in the show when they have to do something special to advance. Unless, you know, they all keep serving up the mediocre stuff. Hopefully Jamie Foxx can repeat his inspiring mentor work from last season, but the summer-camp t-shirt gimmick doesn’t fill me with excitement.

Lee DeWyze
You ain’t never gonna win nothing singing Seal. You ain’t never gonna win nothing singing songs from the Batman soundtracks. And you ain’t never gonna win nothing singing out of tune. That was not good. It ended well, but mostly I was just glad that it ended. Oh dear, Lee, it’s a bad time to lay your first real dud.

Michael Lynche
The Michael Jackson songbook is a lot more impressive than Seal, but we just can’t leave the ocean mammals or the cheesy 90s movies behind. Free Willy? That said, I love this song (big shocker) but not the performance. It wasn’t bad. He sang well. But it was very . . . yawny.

Lee & Crystal
“Falling Slowly” is pretty much the perfect song for these two. I don’t know how much this duet business will count in people’s minds and phoning habits, but if it carries any weight that’s real good news for the both of them. That was cool.

Casey James
The I less-than-three Casey jokes pretty much write themselves at this point as he sings the signature song from The Graduate, so let’s just sail right past all of them. Strictly musically speaking, he pretty much kicked the lemonhead out of that Simon & Garfunkel tune, and I genuinely loved it. But it wasn’t the biggest vocal challenge in the world, which is kind of a big deal at this juncture. Not a big song. Not a big guitar. But it was a great song.

Crystal Bowersox
Caddyshack? Tell me Crystal isn’t pinning her American Idol hopes on Kenny Loggins. Please. Tell me that, people. Tell me she isn’t taking on the king of the soundtracks. . . . I’m waiting. Well, the song has started. “I’m Alright” is playing, and it’s coming from the mild rasp of Crystal’s larynx, so I have to assume there are no announcements coming from you. Oh, hey, she sounded good. Great, actually. But that was Caddyshack. Cinderella story, out of nowhere? Hmm . . .

Casey & Mike
Casey singing Bryan Adams is right down his alley. Michael’s in a completely different alley, so it was pretty darn surprising to see the intersection of their disparate alleys work so well. It was pretty cool. Not mind-blowing, but cool.

I have no idea who’s going home, so I didn’t even bother doing odds for them. Gun to my head, I’d say Mike, but all of them deserve to advance yet none of them have done so well as to shock me by their dismissals.