Cubs Spring Training Site an Unexpected Choice

Christmas in July? Try spring training in August.

Listening to some Bears chatter in anticipation of tonight’s game against the Raiders, I laughed at the intensity with which football fans discuss preseason games. Wins and losses are insignificant at this point. Most of the guys you’ll depend on to win games when it counts won’t see meaningful action. And a high percentage of the guys on the field will be off the roster before too long. But as much as they say they don’t care, the fans still find themselves completely pulled into these games like the division championship is on the line.

And then the question hit me: What Chicago team am I talking about?

So I was going to write something about how the Cubs’ regular season is looking an awful lot like the Bears’ preseason. Then I realized it’s looking a lot like spring training. And when I stopped to really think about it, the truth became obvious. This is spring training.


Forget Mesa. Screw Naples. The Cubs’ new spring training facility (reeeeeeaaaaallllly extended spring training) is in Chicago at good ol’ Wrigley Field. The Cubs are no longer just giving a rookie or two (or three or four) a shot at earning some playing time. They’re handing the playing time to the prospects, because this is the time to do it . . . when the games don’t count. Not really, anyway. The Cubs could run the table the rest of this year, win every remaining game, and they still wouldn’t reach 90 wins.

Jim Hendry said he’s not giving up and doesn’t want his players to quit, either. And they shouldn’t. They’re basically auditioning for playing time in 2011, just like they will in spring training. So call it extended spring training or call it a really advanced head start on 2011, but this season is more about talent evaluation than winning baseball right now. Hendry’s outlook on this season via Bruce Miles:

It’s going to be a good opportunity for a lot of people to establish themselves going into the off-season. I think we’ll see a few more guys from the minor-league system eventually here, whether anyone one else is traded, or in September, you’ll see some other new guys.

The good thing, if you can be persuaded to agree that 2011 is still worth fighting for, is that the Cubs expect the games to count again sooner rather than later. Also from Hendry:

I’m here to tell you it’s not some kind of a major rebuilding job. When you start seeing the improvement in the young people that we have and the type of young arms that we have and the arms that we have coming, you make three or four solid moves in the off-season and your young guys keep developing, then you’re right back to being a contending team, and that’s the way we’re going to go about it.

I really can’t fathom the concept of next year anymore, because I’m still watching the awful melodrama unfold this year. My first step, I guess, is to stop watching these games with any regard to wins and losses. I can’t really enjoy it as good baseball, either, because lately it just isn’t. From here on out, I’m trying my best to watch as a scout. I’d like to see who impresses me, who shows promise, who seems better off playing near cornfields.

It’s the spring training mentality from this day forward. Maybe I should fly to Arizona and watch the games from there to enhance the effect.

Cubs Lose on Octuple Play

Official score on that play: 4-6-6-3-6-6-2-5-2

In what has to be the crowning achievement in the franchise’s legacy of fail, the Cubs dropped the final game in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Padres by grounding into a game-ending octuple play in the 7th inning. Cubs manager Lou Piniella was flummoxed.

“Look, I’ve been around a long time in baseball, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know what to say to these guys, I really don’t,” said the weary manager who was ejected and called out two thirds of the way through the play.

With the bases loaded and one out, Cubs second baseman Blake DeWitt hit a soft line drive that skipped in the dirt just before his Padres counterpart Jerry Hairston Jr. caught it. He flipped to short to retire Jeff Baker at second, but Tyler Colvin, who thought the line drive would be caught, was tagged out returning to second as well. The return throw beat DeWitt to first for the seemingly unnecessary fourth out of the inning, the third of what turned out to be eight on the play.


Then things got weird.

On third when the play started, Aramis Ramirez wandered out behind second base when something in the stands distracted him. His explanation for the embarrassing next out was vague at best.

“I saw something shiny out in left field. I don’t know. It was hot out there. I guess I just miss D-Lee. It’s hard being the only guy on the team who gets referred to by your first initial and the first syllable in your last name. A-Ram is sad. It helped a little to see the Riot, though.”

As Ramirez was tagged out, he was inexplicably joined by his former teammate Ryan Theriot. Theriot was in the starting lineup for his new team just seven hours later (in what turned out to be a masterful 2-hit shutout of the Rockies in LA).

“I just sensed there was going to be something special going on back here. I just heard about the whole TOOTBLAN stat, and I dig it,” said Theriot in reference to the Wrigleyville-created stat Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop. “I can feel them coming, you know? Had to get mine. Great to see the guys again, too. You miss that when you leave.”

Theriot actually slid in right behind Colvin, but was trapped underneath the rookie, who thought Theriot was just “some kind of bug.” After laughing about the extra out at first, Adrian Gonzalez threw back to short when he saw Ramirez and Theriot congregating off second base.

“It was strange, you know? I was pretty sure we already had three outs, but I couldn’t hear the official call because the umpires were doubled over in laughter. I figured, better safe than sorry. It paid off.”

Ramirez and Theriot were both tagged out at second and offered no protest over the matter. The same couldn’t be said for Lou Piniella, who came sprinting out of the dugout to argue with home plate umpire D. J. Reyburn. He became so furious, he abruptly ended the argument and attempted to slide safely into home. The throw to catcher Yorvit Torrealba beat him. The catcher then fired a snap throw to pick coach Mike Quade, who had joined in the mock-baserunning protest, off of third base.

When the dust settled and the umpiring crew stopped laughing long enough to confer on a final decision, second-base ump Ed Hickox observed that the barrel of DeWitt’s bat had splintered in two, revealing a hallowed-out shaft filled with cork. He ruled DeWitt out a second time.

“We talked about it, and we figured a new inning had begun so that second out of his was fair game.”

According to crew chief Gary Cederstrom, the play technically carried into the 8th and 9th innings, citing rule 4.10(g) that states “The game shall end if a team a) shows blatant ignorance of the number of outs, the object of play, and the overall rules of the game, b) attempts to continue to advance along the base paths after three outs have completed an inning of play, c) records a sufficient number of outs so as to complete their allotted 27 outs per nine innings, and d) has scored fewer runs than the opposing team. If the score is tied or the opposing team has scored fewer runs than the offending team, the opposing team will be granted an extended inning consisting of the number of outs remaining from their allotted total.”

Lou Piniella has to be considering moving up his retirement date after this episode, a new low for the Cubs organization and a blemish on the otherwise stellar managerial career of the Cubs’ skipper. When asked if he would call this a Cubbie occurrence, he countered, “A Cubbie occurrence? Nah, this isn’t a Cubbie occurrence. That play, this season? It’s apocalyptic.”

Derrek Lee Has Left the Building, But He’ll Be Right Back

Gone.

I learned about the Derrek Lee trade (the one that brought him to Chicago) on the way home from work. It hadn’t been a particularly good day. I left work late, and it was that time of year when working inside from 7 to 3:30 meant leaving work on time was my only chance at seeing any sunlight. I didn’t see any of the natural kind that day, but the trade news provided enough figurative sunshine to lift my spirits for the rest of the evening. The Cubs had raided the Florida Marlins’ World Series fire sale, and all it had cost them was Hee-Seop Choi.

That was a great day. Here are Derrek Lee’s numbers since then:


The thing about that MVP-caliber 2005 season was that it followed the departure of Sammy Sosa. I was on Team Sammy even after he was unceremoniously dumped in the direction of Baltimore. I knew Sammy’s oft-hopping days were behind him, but that also meant the Cubs no longer had a superstar offensive player. It meant we’d no longer hear Pat Hughes issuing updates that centered on the one player’s achievements everyone really cared about. In years prior, Pat would open an inning with, “If you’re wondering about Sammy Sosa, the answer is yes. He homered in the first and the fifth.”

So it was to my sheer delight when, on a day a couple months into the season, the first thing I heard on the radio on the commute home was, “If you’re wondering about Derrek Lee, the answer is yes. He homered in his first at-bat and the Cubs lead 3-0.” Derrek Lee was the man that year. Absolutely dominant.


But in the years he wasn’t so dominant, Derrek Lee was always a reliable defender and a strong, if not vocal, leader of the team. One thing in particular impressed me, and I’m not even sure why. I think it was Len Kasper who said that Lee so respects the game of baseball and the field on which it is played that he never so much as spits on the baseball diamond. It was something he picked up watching his father playing in Japan.

The main thing I noticed was that they respect the game big time. It’s almost a sacred thing to them. I never saw them do things like spit on the field. Their practices were serious business. They put in many hours working at the game, and they never put themselves ahead of the team. I was really impressed by that.

I don’t even respect the game that much. But I could tell Derrek Lee revered his profession. Even this year, when his offensive production dipped lower than the economy of Greece, the guy carried himself with dignity. He’s a really big hombre with back and neck problems, and I don’t doubt for a moment that his injuries would have put the average human on bed rest for four days out of the week. But Derrek Lee had too much pride to complain or ask for extended time off. Maybe the smart thing to do would have been to go on the DL, but who are Cubs fans to tell anyone what the smart thing to do is?

Derrek Lee is going to a first-place Atlanta Braves team where he may very well get another taste of postseason glory. He’ll miss today’s game against the Nationals, so his debut for the Braves will almost definitely come at Wrigley Field. When he does, I expect him to get a standing ovation from a somewhat sparsely populated crowd (exactly the kind of thing he can expect to see in Atlanta during the playoffs; sorry, saying goodbye makes me bitter).

Whatever applause Lee receives, whatever hardware he and the Braves might win, it will all be well deserved. He put together one of the greatest seasons in Cubs history, and only Mark Grace compares among the Cubs who have manned first base in my lifetime. It was a pleasure to watch him play as a Cub and a bit of a disaster the last time he played against them.

This time, Derrek? Please destroy this team. We don’t need the wins.

Celebrity Guest Conductor: Save This Awful Tradition

CHICAGO - AUGUST 17:  Celebrity Ozzy Osbourne and his wife Sharon sing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' during the seventh inning stretch of a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers underneath a sign which pays tribute to the late former Cubs announcer Harry Caray on August 17, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Dodgers defeated the Cubs 3-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
He’s the prince of Cubbie darkness.

I probably change my mind on this every other time I hear another semi-famous person butcher “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but for now I’ve made up my mind. The Cubs should continue the tradition that has lasted into its lucky 13th season. Here’s what has ended the back and forth* for me: everything about it reminds me of Harry Caray.


They sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” 
Duh. Hear me out. I grew up with Harry Caray being the Cubs’ biggest star, and that lasted right up to the day he died. Out of all the things people loved about Harry, his leading the 7th inning stretch was his most popular gimmick. It was just that, a gimmick, but when I first observed it in person at Wrigley, it was an extraordinary phenomenon. Everyone stood. My mom told me right where to look. “There he is, do you see him?”

And I did see him, which felt pretty incredible to me since I was about three feet tall and could never see anything in a crowd. During that and every other game I went to while Harry was alive, the stretch seemed to make everyone so happy. I mean, big, beaming, geeky smiles sprang up on every previously slackened face in their various states of drunkenness. The guest conductors don’t achieve that same effect exactly, but they’re reminiscent of it, and that’s good enough for me.

They sing terribly.
Yeah, that’s a plus. The recorded versions of Harry’s greatest 7th-inning hits sound like they were hand-selected from his most coherent performances. They weren’t all like that. As I remember, Harry almost always strayed from his original key and then waved the mic until he could relocate the tune. Kind of. It was always bad, and it was always wonderful. So when Mike Ditka charged through it, Denise Richards drop-kicked it, and Chester Taylor didn’t even realize he was supposed to sing it, I couldn’t help but think of Harry.  (Special thanks to Eddie Olczyk for reminding me by merrily skating around each and every note tonight.)

Harry sang at the top of his lungs with boundless enthusiasm despite the obvious fact he wasn’t a good singer. I love seeing people who are otherwise excellent at what they do (give or take a few exceptions) subject themselves to ridicule in an unfamiliar element. Singing the stretch is a chance to say, “Forget what anybody thinks. I’m having some fun.” Being a Cub fan is kind of like that, too. There’s no sense trying to act cool. We’re not. This team sucks. Stop trying to make it look good.

They get in the booth and don’t talk about baseball.
Harry was the king of directing the conversation away from baseball. He’d say names backwards. He’d commend Arne Harris on his ability to find nice . . . hats in the crowd. He’d break into a chorus of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” even though, as far as I could tell, there were no bubbles anywhere to be seen. Steve’s cigars. Ron’s gamer. Arne’s dog-racing gambling problem. The Cracker Jack conspiracy. Harry was at his best when he wasn’t talking about baseball.

I really don’t care when guests steer the conversation away from baseball. Whatever Rob Dibble thinks women are talking about at baseball games, my experience has shown most people regardless of gender don’t talk much about baseball. I mean, come on, I love baseball, but I talk about other stuff at baseball games. Baseball discussion is the pepper on the steak of conversation at Wrigley or any ballpark. A lot of people like to think they’re all baseball from batting practice to “Go Cubs Go,” but they’re kidding themselves. Watching this game is incredibly conducive to good conversation. Sometimes we talk about baseball. Other times, we talk about whatever comes to mind, like . . . what other people in the crowd might be talking about.

So when Kellie Pickler talked about Apple Jacks and milk vendors and not camping out in the middle of the infield, I loved it. It was hilarious. Did it belong on a broadcast of Major League Baseball? Of course. It belonged just as much as Bill Murray dropping into the booth and asking Harry if he wanted another Budweiser out of the fridge. That is to say, it totally belonged. Is anyone that enthralled with what Len and Bob have to say about every single player and every single pitch sequence? Of course not! It’s TV. You aren’t missing anything while Shawn Johnson discusses Dancing With the Stars. You just aren’t. Even if it’s the radio and Santo is going on about soup or Acapulco Taco Pie, if something important happens you’ll know.

By the way, do you remember Harry on the radio? “And Mary Lou Greenberg is here from . . . Hey! It’s a line drive deep to . . . second . . . Oh! No! You gotta . . . well, the side is retired. No runs. One hit. None left.” Even when he missed a detail or two, we got over it. He was fun to listen to regardless.

They draw a small amount of attention away from the losing.
Harry did it. Eddie Vedder does it. I see no problem with it. Seriously . . . is anyone complaining that not enough words and airtime are dedicated to discussing the state of Cubs baseball?

Not me. Let’s keep this tradition going strong.

*If I ever do change my mind, it will probably be something along the lines of ditching the losing attitudes of the past. We’re no longer going to have fun losing. No more lovable, no more losers. That kind of crap. The reason I doubt I’ll change my mind: this stuff has nothing to do with why the Cubs lose all the time. Nothing. You can’t speed up traffic by turning down the radio. You can take the edge of the gridlock by singing along. Alright, let me hear you. A one, a two, a three . . .

Fantasy Football Team Name Fun – UPDATED

I don’t like Twilight. I don’t have Brandon Jacobs on my team. So?
It’s a jingle. Forgive me if it gets lodged in your cerebellum.

I play fantasy football. I know you don’t care, even if you’re in my league. But naming fantasy football teams is fun.  Making lame photoshopped images to go along with those team names: even funner. I’m just a little bit proud of this year’s batch: Team Jacobs and 773-202-Manumaleuna. (I have no idea why I named both my teams after big bad guys named Brandon. I won’t explore the notion any further.)

I justify including this on a Cubs blog because a) It’s my Cubs blog and I can do what I want, b) Have you watched the Cubs lately?, and c) I don’t know if they do it anymore, but in the odd event that the Cubs actually hit a double during a real-live game, they used to play the Luna jingle. I never figured out what Luna had to do with doubles, but maybe this video will explain it:

Anyway, I’d love to hear your fantasy football team names if you have them or would like to make one up right now. Please read that whole sentence through. I don’t want to hear your fantasy. Don’t tell me that.

UPDATE: The esteemed commissioner of my Team Jacobs fantasy league (Internecinare) has thrown down the gauntlet. Or picked it up and slapped me with it. Whatever. Meet . . . Team Edwards:

Oh, it’s on. It’s so on.

Starting from Scratch: Realigning Major League Baseball

If tradition were no concern, wouldn’t this make sense?

To follow up with last night’s post about the travesty that is the three-division league, I thought I’d draw up a quick realignment plan. I threw tradition out the window. The westward expansion of baseball slapped tradition in the face a long time ago, so it’s about time the traditionalists got over it. The league can be divided much more conveniently by geography than it can by its current Senior Circuit/Junior Circuit rules (baseball is old; both leagues are senior citizens). So here’s what I suggest:

Western League
Pacific Division
Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, with an Affinity for Burbank
Las Angeles Dodgers
Oakland A’s
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
Seattle Mariners

Midwest Division
Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins
St. Louis Cardinals
Texas Rangers

Eastern League
Central Division
Atlanta Braves
Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Florida Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers

Tampa Bay Rays
Northeast Division
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
Toronto Blue Jays
Washington Nationals
The division winners would make the playoffs along with the teams with the next two best records regardless of division. Seems to me it would cut down on travel and emphasize regional rivalries over traditional ones, many of which no longer mean anything. At first I was dismissive of this idea because it will “never happen,” but I can’t think of any good reason it shouldn’t.
Can you? Go ahead, tear the idea to shreds.

Why Does Baseball Have 3 Divisions in Each League?

That’s awesome. And slightly relevant.

In 1994, Major League Baseball attempted to correct a problem in its divisional system: some really good teams weren’t reaching the postseason, most infamously the San Francisco Giants of the previous season. That team won 103 games and watched the Philadelphia Phillies march their way to the World Series on the strength of 6 fewer regular season wins than the Giants. To ensure the second-best team in each league always had the opportunity to play in the postseason, Bud Selig realigned the leagues and expanded the playoffs to accommodate three division winners and a wild card in each league. The move didn’t quite work; in 1994, nobody played in the postseason.

The small snafu of canceling the World Series aside, the advent of the wild card race has added excitement to the end of every regular season and an extra round of playoff fever to the October thrill (or an extra hurdle to clear on the road to curse-breaking). But the basic problem inherent in the previous system still haunts Major League Baseball: the best teams don’t always play into October.

I probably could have just skipped writing those first two paragraphs and opened with “AL East,” and you would have known where I was going. Here are the overall MLB rankings according to the Baseball-Reference.com SRS (Simple Rating System) that uses runs scored, runs allowed, and strength of schedule (based on the run-scoring, run-prevention abilities of the team’s opponents):


In this scenario, if the best eight teams all made the playoffs, the NL would be represented by only three teams. They’ve got four in the top nine, though, so this isn’t a call to eliminate leagues as we know them altogether . . . yet. It does trouble me that three of the top four teams in baseball hail from the same division (and that so many Red Sox fans complain about their team being bad). Also troubling: no NL Central team cracked the top 10.

The problem is obvious. Divisions are categorized by geography not by baseball achievement. The more divisions, the greater the likelihood that at least one division will yield an unworthy champion. So why have three in each league? The more divisions, the greater the injustice. Did Confederacy teach us nothing? Divided we fall, right?

Every division holds the possibility for at least one undeserving team being allowed to sneak past the velvet rope into the postseason dance, and the league division multiplies those possibilities by two. If the top 8 records in all of MLB advanced to the playoffs, that would be fair but also a bit unwieldy. Achieving that fairness would require playing a balanced schedule throughout baseball (the Cubs would play every MLB team 5 or 6 times). That would kind of suck.

So for now let’s hold on to the AL/NL setup we’ve got going and acknowledge that granting each league 4 playoff spots allows for the possibility that four teams from one league could be the 5th-8th best teams in baseball and still be golfing in October. I can live with that, especially since the chance each team has to prove itself against the other league is limited to 15 games per year.

As it is, teams play roughly half their games (~80) against divisional opponents, 15 interleague, and ~33 against the two other divisions within the league. If each league went division-free, requiring a balanced schedule, National League teams would play each other about 10 times apiece, and American League teams would face each other about 12 times each. They could make it even more consistent by sticking with the original plan to spread interleague competition throughout the season and have 15 teams in each league (interleague play was introduced on a 2-year trial basis in 1997, so there was no guarantee it would last beyond the 1998 expansion to 30 teams).

For the Cubs, that would result in 5-7 fewer games per current NL Central rival. That would also require a few more trips out west. Should convenience and tradition trump fairness? Well, let’s give those two factors a little bit of credence.

The lay of the land in baseball is pretty clustered. Some division is inevitable.
Probably. image CBSSports.com

If travel has any effect on a team’s ability to compete, the travails of a balanced schedule would probably tip the scales of fairness against the teams in the West. So I’ll concede that dividing each league and including some imbalance in the schedule to minimize the detrimental effects of travel does make sense. While it creates more possibilities for another lesser team advancing (theoretically, the 9th best team in the NL and the 23rd best team in baseball, could reach the playoffs), it also prevents factors like travel from penalizing an entire region of the baseball world too severely. Even if heading east a dozen times a year costs the West Coast teams 30 wins a year, they can at least settle on a winner between them.

But beyond that, what’s the point of another division? It creates the illusion of competitiveness for fans that would rather see their team finish 3rd than 7th, but that’s a cheap little psychological trick to play at the expense of true fairness. Three divisions makes sense in the NFL where the schedule simply can’t be balanced. But in baseball where everyone plays each other at least six times, three divisions per league is pure silliness.

Trust me, I’m not one to argue for the benefit of ESPN’s pet baseball teams, but Boston should be battling with the other candidates for 4th-best in the AL. Instead, they must scramble to displace one of the top two teams in baseball. Meanwhile, the Cardinals or Reds will probably secure a spot in the Senior Circuit’s October schedule at the expense of a team in the West or the East that deserves a shot at fall ball. If the Reds advance to the playoffs and the Red Sox do not, something needs to change.

Something does need to change. Two leagues. Two divisions. Two wild cards in each league regardless of division. If we were dispensing with tradition altogether, I’d suggest reconfiguring the leagues, replacing American and National with East and West. The traditional roots of baseball barely extend past the Mississippi River, so at some point MLB should recognize that and divide the teams in a way that places competition and fairness over faux historical integrity. I just don’t think we’re at that point yet.

We’re also not yet at the point where the best teams make the playoffs, and that’s a pity.

Just Something About Cubs, Cardinals on a Saturday

I usually hate Cubs/Cardinals games,
but Saturdays are the exception.

I hate it when the Cubs play the Cardinals. I’ve called it the worst rivalry in sports. Beating the Cardinals usually comes more as a relief than a cause for great joy. If the Cardinals win, I hear it from their fans. If the Cubs win, I hear about how many championships the Cardinals have won since the Cubs’ last World Series. I believe it’s more than one.

I also hate it when Cubs games are televised on FOX. I don’t like the announcers. I don’t like the graphics. I don’t like the way the entire broadcast seems to find the elusive mix of patronizing affection and professional disdain for everything associated with the Chicago National League ball club. The games take longer. They never seem to start at a good time. I’m whining, I know, but baseball on FOX is stupid.

But for some odd reason (maybe something to do with a certain game in which a certain Hall of Fame Cub second baseman hit two home runs off a Hall of Fame ex-Cub and then-Cardinal closer) I have a strong, strange affinity for Saturday afternoon Cubs/Cardinals games, even the ones broadcast on FOX. There’s a mystique about them. As much as I like to say the Cardinals suck, on these Saturday afternoon telecasts, I renew my respect for the franchise and their fans, even if for only a three-hour period.

Carlos Zambrano is usually good for something memorable.
Something positive? We’ll see.

It feels like the Olympics. Or a Rocky movie. Somehow the teams seem both more familiar than usual and more superhuman. It’s as though I’m watching people I know elevate themselves to some Valhallan stage where every pitch carries eternal significance, every at-bat an audition for immortality.

Maybe that’s a bit much (a bit, you ask?) but that’s how it feels. Any other day it’s just the irritating tradition of surviving the attacks or suffering at the hands of the despised Cardinals, but on Saturday afternoons . . . it’s altogether different.

The other factor contributing to the feeling that this more than just another weary game against another superior opponent on the way to the finish line of another dismal season is that Carlos Zambrano is pitching. It’s been quite awhile since that signified the likelihood of a start that would last into the 9th inning or a Wrigley scoreboard peppered with harmless white zeros. (Yes, I know they’re playing at Busch. Leave my imagery alone.) But today in enemy territory against the Cardinals’ ace, Chris Carpenter, I have the feeling Zambrano might just rise to the occasion. I don’t think he will. Actually, the part of my brain that controls the typing is all but refusing to type this next part: I feel like he’s going to pitch a gem of historic proportions.

I have zero logical foundation for that feeling. None. Zambrano’s velocity is down. His control is shaky. His emotions are monitored on a moment-by-moment basis. But this is Saturday. Against the Cardinals. On FOX. And my stupid, irrational, unreliable, foolish, desperately optimistic gut is telling me we might look back on today as the Zambrano game.

My brain is saying it will be known as one of those Pujols games.

Cubs vs. les Petites Garces

Uhlman/AP

Comparisons to the Cubs always cause things to turn ugly.

Brandon Phillips is a poet. You can read his finest work . . . well, just about anywhere, but I like how it appears in this piece about why the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decided to quote Phillips verbatim. The article is more about journalism than sports, but I wish the Chicago sports columnists and beat writers would make more of an effort to explain why they report the way they do. (I suspect they don’t because the method behind their madness is nothing to be proud of, but I’m just guessing.) It was refreshing to see another city’s paper explain their reasoning professionally.

As for Phillips’ reasons for making his public comments in the first place, most people seem to agree he was trying to pump up his teammates or intimidate the Cardinals or some combination of both. Opinion is divided as to how stupid it was of Phillips to call out the opposing team before such an important series. Marlon Byrd added some good player perspective on rivalries:

When you have competition against the same teams over and over again, you start to develop a hate. It’s not like you want to kill them, but you want to beat them. Every time you go out there, you want the 10-run rule. You want to shut them out. I just think that’s healthy competition.

But no one will classify the rant as the most brilliant competitive tactic in the history of baseball. The Cardinals swept the Reds, so there’s no arguing its lousy effectiveness. There’s also no arguing its pinpoint accuracy.

In all the critiques, reactions, responses, and mockeries offered up about Phillips’ evaluation of the Cardinals as “little bitches,” I haven’t heard one shred of dissent about that comment. Hordes of people have said Phillips was stupid to say it, but I have yet to read a single sentence accusing him of being wrong.

So as the Cubs head into St. Louis for the first time all year (and it’s absolutely nuts that it has taken this long), I hope the Cubs win them all. It won’t redeem this season. It won’t end the Cardinals’ season. But it would feel good to see them do it. The Cubs would be happy. The Cardinals would be grumpy. And Brandon Phillips would rejoice in the success of his beloved Cubs. In his glorious words, “Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals.”

Amen, Brandon. Amen.

I Don’t Have a Topic. Cubs Stuff.

The Cubs have lost more one-run decisions than anyone else in the majors. I guess that means they’re almost really good.

The Cubs are 13-28 (.317) in games decided by one run. They’ve come dangerously close to not losing 28 times.

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. If baseball were horseshoes, the Cubs would be the champions. If baseball were hand grenades, everyone  would be dead.

The Cubs are 3-9 (.250) against the Pirates. The Pirates are 39-74 (.345). So, if you’re following, the Cubs against the Pirates < the Cubs in 1-run games < the Pirates in general.

Against teams not named the Cubs, the Pirates are 30-71 (.297). That’s almost as bad as the Cubs are against the Pirates, but not quite.

The Cubs playing the Pirates is quite possibly the worst baseball you could ever see played at the Major League level. They should probably be playing hand grenades.

Roy Halladay has a 7.50 ERA against the Cubs this year. Tim Lincecum has a 13.50 ERA against the Cubs this year. Their respective ERAs overall are 2.34 and 3.41. That is weird.

Tony LaRussa will be suspended for two of the Cubs’ upcoming games against the Cardinals. The St. Louis middle infielders will have to remember on their own to start back and charge in when there’s a runner at third.

Darwin Barney’s middle name should be comma.

When athletes who play sports that do not allow fighting get into fights, they should be arrested. When I beat up my coworkers, I’m never granted two days off. They always press charges.

A beer at Wrigley costs seven dollars. That’s outrageous. If they used the same ROI ratio they use to price tickets, seven dollars would only get you a glass of trough juice.

That was gross. I’m sorry. But if this were Wrigley, you’d still owe me $14 for that joke.

Most of the Cubs roster now looks to Starlin Castro for his veteran wisdom.

The Cajun Connection is now split onto opposite sides of baseball’s most heated West Coast rivalry. Their dueling hip-hop albums cannot be far behind.

I’m out of ideas. Now I know how Lou felt in mid-April.