Aramis IS Back . . . on the DL

Rest easy, Aramis, and remember: lift with your legs, not your thumb.

Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago is reporting that Aramis Ramirez is headed to the DL, according to sources close to the Situation. I still don’t know how this situation or others involving sports teams develop sources outside of the team itself. It’s not like this is NATO discussing Kosovo or anything. Ramirez’s thumb hurts.

I also don’t know why so many people are complaining that this move wasn’t made sooner. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that a sore left thumb was a seriously significant contribution to Aramis’s woeful pitch selection and decreased contact percentage. He just hasn’t looked like a guy who can find the baseball with his bat or his eyes. Unless it’s a blinding thumb soreness, I’d say the thumb and the bat have been two different issues.

Naturally, the Cubs are expected to call up Chad Tracy, who has been hitting 8.000 and slugging 1.600 x 10^17 at AAA Iowa. You can pretty much count on the team to be in first place by the end of the month.

UPDATE: It’s official now. Aramis is on the 15-day DL, retroactive to June 8. I knew I could trust Snooki.

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

They’ve done it like this. They’ve done it like that. They should try it with a Wiffle Ball bat.

If Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez could hit again, the comparisons of the Cubs’ offense to the effects of an enlarged prostate would stop. But until things get flowing properly, here are 10 suggestions to help the slow, unpredictable trickle of corner-infield hits to get back to the rushing stream of extra-base hits we all expected.

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

10. Stop calling them D-Lee and A-Ram.

9. Let them use Wiffle Ball bats for increased bat speed.

8. Three words: Little. Jerry. Seinfeld.

7. Have them look in the mirror. That’s what they all suggested Milton Bradley do, anyway.

6. Last one to get a hit each game wears the Hello Kitty backpack.

5. Convince them that while their abysmal start has been an absolute joke, it’s still no replacement for Kevin Millar.

4. Give their mothers 10-year visas.

3. After three strikes: bring out the tee.

2. Substitute their advanced scouting videos with 15 hours of Lou Piniella saying, “Look, I don’t know what else I can do.”

1. 1980s campy movie solution: most triumphant video.

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.

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

In Our Own Image

Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano homers against the Houston Astros
Even I can run hard out of the box (which would be odd after a strikeout).
They make millions of dollars a year. They get paid those millions to play the game we love. They should consider themselves lucky to be professional baseball players and collect the hard earned money we shell out to watch them play the game we love. The least these players can do is to try their best.
Except, actually, that’s not the least they can do—that’s the most we could do. If we (and by we, I mean society . . . specifically the non-professional baseball playing segment of it) were to play baseball in the majors, we would absolutely suck. We wouldn’t be able to hit. We wouldn’t be able to pitch. We wouldn’t be able to hit the cutoff man. But we could try really hard. We could run out our ground-outs and pop-ups. We could make smart decisions. We could hustle. We could not admire our non-homers. We could dirty our uniforms. We could be scrappy.

For fans who wish we could play, it’s hard to forgive a multimillionaire for failing to do the things we know we could do or for making the mistakes we know we could avoid. So when Alfonso Soriano or Aramis Ramirez don’t sprint out of the batter’s box or when Ryan Theriot gets TOOTBLAN’d or when Lou decides John Grabow should pitch in a game we think the Cubs have a chance to win, we self-respecting Cub fans get a bit angry. I’ve been trying to figure out the reason behind the outrage, and the conclusion I’ve come to doesn’t reflect on us all too well.

The thought came to me as I was remembering the accounts and myriad replays of Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in Game 6. Pudge watched that homer. He jumped around and waved like a maniac. It’s the stuff of legend because he acted exactly the way any person capable of emotion would have . . . and because it won Game 6 of the 1975 World Series in the 12th freaking inning. Here’s my personal favorite recollection of that shot, courtesy of Good Will Hunting. It’s extremely NSFW, with a big stinking emphasis on the F. But I love the scene. Just don’t play it if you’re in an un-effing-friendly environment.

Anyway, I got to wondering: Pudge was waving because he wanted it to stay fair, but what if fair/foul wasn’t the problem? (It hit the foul pole, for crying out loud. How beautiful is that drama?) But what if it stayed fair and ricocheted off the Green Monster? Fisk could have been held to a single or even thrown out at second. What he did in that glorious moment—watched the ball and gestured emotionally—resembles pretty closely the antics of some of the most derided players in the game. What’s the big difference? The moment? The stakes? The results? Ultimately, I think the difference is the answer to the question, What would I have done if it were me?

We are proud people. As much as we want to live vicariously through the athletes who do what for us would be impossible, we just as badly want them to reflect the qualities we claim to possess in ourselves.

Sometimes it’s as simple as geography. I went to Valparaiso High School. Jeff Samardzija did, too. So I and all of my fellow Valpo Vikings wanted to see the kid succeed. It would promote the notion that somebody from our town could be great. Someone like me could be a big-league baseball player. As it is, I have to live vicariously through the graduates of Fort Osage High School.

Obviously our personal stock in our favorite players isn’t limited to such specific minutiae. If you’re a hard-working, blue-collar type, you’ll tend to admire the multimillionaires who aren’t afraid to sacrifice their bodies to break up a double play. The intense competitors in the stands greatly appreciate those players who, when they hit routine grounders to short, consider the dash to first a race against death. Perfectionists love a guy with ridiculously impeccable fundamentals. Dancing bears bow to Kevin Millar. You get the idea.

We feel strongly about players who do the little things because the little things are all we have. When a professional with all-world talent still manages to play with the heart and grit of one of us common slow-pitch softball junkies, it makes us forget about the salaries they make and reminds us of what we could have been if only Disney hadn’t lied to us about all that dreams-come-true mumbo jumbo. Living out our dreams through someone else is more believable when that someone does things the way we do. Watching them do something that goes against our character feels like a betrayal of our dreams, like they’re dancing on the graves of our aspirations. Lazy selfish ballplayers make lousy vicars.

Our desire as fans to cheer for athletes who conform to our own image causes us to place too much importance on rather insignificant details and arrive at inaccurate conclusions. That could have been a triple. He shouldn’t have dived headfirst into first base. Or he should have. He doesn’t care. He’s lazy. He only cares about his own stats. He’s a clubhouse cancer. If he was more like me, he’d be a much better ball player.

Let’s get one thing straight: if players were more like us, baseball wouldn’t be very fun to watch. I don’t fault anyone who likes a player for espousing their same values or work ethic or haircut. But we need to understand the difference between what makes us like a player and what makes him a good player. Sometimes they’re the same thing, but not as often as we think.

On the other hand, talented people often think they’re above doing the things common people have to do to get by. And that sucks. But at some point, we need to realize that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we appreciate talent much more than character, hustle, grit, or work ethic. If Mr. Rogers were the starting second baseman for the Chicago Cubs and he made 6 errors in a game and went 0-5 with 5 strikeouts (but tried real hard doing it) we’d boo his face off. That’s a fact. But rousing applause will greet any Cub that hits two homers in a game, regardless of the little things he neglects and big blunders to which he’s prone.

Why? Because deep down we know the qualities we possess are much less valuable in a baseball player than the talent we lack. 

Cubs’ Injured as Numerous as All Stars in the Sky

With injuries sidelining Ted Lilly and Alfonso Soriano for at least a few days, the Cubs are close to fielding a team of All Stars who have missed time this year due to injury. Check out this list of Cubs All-Stars (mostly of past years, obviously) who have been bitten by the ravenous injury bug at some point this year:
Milton Bradley
Ryan Dempster
Derrek Lee
Ted Lilly
Carlos Marmol
Aramis Ramirez
Alfonso Soriano
Geovany Soto
Carlos Zambrano
Am I missing anyone? Again, this isn’t the list of Cubs who have been injured. This is the list of Cubs All Stars who have been injured. Cub All Stars have been injured nine times. Nine times! Granted, when they’ve been healthy, they haven’t played like All Stars this year, but the Cubs can ill-afford to lose anymore players of this calibre for any length of time.
Hopefully Ted Theodore Lilly (esquire) can plow through this injury like so many Molina brothers. But for now, the Cubs really should be thanking their unlucky All Stars they’re still in this pennant race.

Cubs Sox a Love Hate Relationship

I feel about the Cubs-Sox series pretty much the way I feel about roller coasters. They’re exciting. They’re nerve wracking. They’re rarely boring. But by the end, I kind of want to throw up. It’s essentially the same feeling I get when the Cubs play the Cardinals, except there is so much less at stake . . . and so much more.

With the Cards, each game is worth 2 in the standings (if the Cubs and Cardinals were to play today, a loss would send the Cubs 3 games behind St. Louis, a win would pull them within 1), so they all carry a ton of weight. But with the Sox, the competition is chiefly a battle for bragging rights, and there are a lot more Sox fans than Cards fans in my territory, so the bragging that goes on is real, prevalent, and annoying.
So here are a few of the pluses and minuses about enduring the Windy City matchups when I’m neither out of the country nor in a coma:
Love it
The intensity among the fans and the adrenaline in the players creates a playoff atmosphere.
Hate it
Have you watched the Cubs in the playoffs lately?
Love it
Ozzie and Lou are hilarious to watch and listen to, and uniting them in one building for three days makes for great TV and soundbites.
Hate it
Listening to people overreact to both of them, on the other hand, sucks rocks.
Love it
No matter how the season is going, this rivalry gives importance to at least 6 games at a time when either team might be irrelevant.
Hate it
Right now, these are two irrelevant teams.
Love it
The emotional high of seeing, say, an Aramis Ramirez walk-off homer is absolutely exquisite.
Hate it
My emotional high is on the DL.
Love it
After the World Series win in ’05, Sox fans turned into a bunch of placated softies. I attended the infamous A.J./Barrett game the next year, and the crowd at the Cell was as laid back as can be.
Hate it
After the World Series win in ’05, Cub fans effectively lost all bragging rights.
Love it
The series has been even, split down the middle, half Cub wins, half Cub losses.
Hate it
Those 33 losses really stunk. And I’ll never forget the 2001 Sox sweep at Wrigley in ’99 that effectively ended what had been a promising season. The Cubs never recovered . . . not sure I have either.
Love it
It’s one of those events that get people talking about baseball again, bringing national attention to both teams, and arousing interest in people who don’t usually care a lick about sports.
Hate it
At this point in my life, I just want a nice relaxing day at the park or in front of the TV or just driving easy breezy with the radio tuned to 720. Cubs + White Sox almost never = relaxing.
I’m not one of those who hates the Sox with a passion. I like quite a few Sox fans. The Cell is a nice place to go see a game. If we’re honest, both teams historically stink. I’m glad for the chance to watch some meaningful baseball, but will someone please wake me when things are meaningless again?
In the meantime, let me know what you think. Do you love or hate the Cubs/White Sox series?
UPDATE: With the recent disclosure from the NY Times about Sosa’s alleged 2003 positive steroid test (I’m not even going to honor that rag by linking to it), I have to say the pendulum has swung over to the Hate it side. These big moments provide the perfect occasions for pseudo-journalists to release bombshell stories with zero attribution of fact.