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This is a guest post by John Dooley who’s easily one of the most knowledgeable sports fans I have ever met. He’s a walking, talking encyclopedia of Cubs minutia, which explains his appearance on Comcast Sports Net’s ‘Batter’s Box’ trivia show. John’s true specialty, however, is crafting the lighter side of sports. See for yourself by visiting his blog Chicago Tough. Hilarious! @chicagotough
The Cubs are inching closer towards their first 100 loss season since 1966.
That doesn’t seem right, does it? For most Cubs fans, it’s hard to believe that after all of the managerial flops, prospect flare-outs, and ill-fated trades that this magical number has evaded us for so long.
We all know that numerous teams (see: 1980, 1981, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, and 2010 Cubs) have had more than enough inept play to reach the mark. However, only this Cubs team has had the gumption to stick it to number 100!
If any hope exists for Cubs fans, maybe a comparison of the two teams could bring some light to a depressing season. There are some big similarities…
Both seasons were ‘culture shock’ years for the Cubs. In 1966, Wrigley had brought in Leo Durocher to bring in a winning attitude to the north side. Durocher was highly respected in baseball circles for his winning ways as a player in St. Louis, and in Brooklyn/New York as a manager.
In 2012, the Cubs’ move towards a ‘culture shock’ came through the hiring of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Both were forced to make tough moves on the field and off the field to bring a new attitude into the organization.
Under Durocher’s notorious tongue lashings, the Cubs limped through the ’66 schedule going 59-103. Durocher believed in ‘tough love’, and wasn’t one for sitting players for a day of rest. Durocher used 1966 as a training camp; a camp to find out who he could stand by in the years to come.
Durocher found out quickly that he had a team filled with potential. However, if the Cubs were ever to contend, some dead weight would have to go. It was obvious that Dick Ellsworth (who would lead the NL in losses) was past his prime. It was easily seen that Byron Browne (who led the NL in K’s) was never going to fulfill his duties in the outfield. It was also painfully obvious that the Cubs lacked depth on the bench, and even more severely in the bullpen.
Durocher’s Cubs had four future Hall of Fame players: Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams (Well, five if you count the elder version of Robin Roberts in the pen). The foundation had been set prior to his arrival in ’66…but that didn’t stop the growing pains.
The Cubs were coming off the bizarre year of Bob Kennedy and Lou Klein. They were only years removed from the memorable gaffe that was the ‘College of Coaches’. Nobody in the Cubs organization knew anything about…well…organization. Durocher’s arrival would provide that organization…but at a price.
The Cubs would start 31-69 after 110 games…but as the players got used to Leo’s ways, they’d finish at a semi-respectable 38-44 to round out the season. Durocher had found ample arms in the rotation with Bill Hands and Ken Holtzman; plus, he made a big switch by moving Jenkins from the pen into the rotation. Talk about accomplishing a lot in one season.
For the 2012 Cubs, it’s hard to project four possible Hall of Fame players in this group. Nor can you compare the career accomplishments of Leo Durocher to Dale Sveum.
What you can compare is the level of change that was needed at both times in the franchise’s history.
The Cubs were a carnival act for the 1950’s and early 60’s and an over-priced act with little results during the 2000s, prior to Epstein’s arrival. 1966 and 2012 both stand as years to turn the tide.
While Durocher had to change the Cubs’ attitude in ’66, Epstein has had to change the Cubs’ way of doing business.
Epstein has started by being willing to deal players for prospects. In just one season, the Cubs have parted ways with Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, and Geo Soto. In return, they’ve upgraded for their future. He also finally laid down the law in refusing to negotiate contracts that feature the dreaded ‘no-trade clauses’.
However, in today’s baseball, the future you buy doesn’t come to fruition for another 2-3 years. Cubs fans in ’66 who were frustrated by the team’s consistent failure were quickly rewarded with a strong first half in 1967 that put the Cubs in first place by early July. While the Cubs faded down the stretch, it was obvious for many that the team would be a consistent contender for the next five years.
What Durocher was able to gain quickly, will take Theo & Co. much longer. As much as we might love Castro/Rizzo/Samardzija, it’s tough to compare them to Banks/Jenkins/Santo/Williams.
1966 had hope around the corner. 2012 has hope around the corner, too…just be prepared to also go left, through some trees, and maybe under a tunnel before reaching your destination.
Valbuena up twice w/ bases loaded…strikes out twice…#Cubs practically sprinting towards 100-losses.
— Bullpen Brian (@bullpenbrian) September 29, 2012
— Cubs No-Hit Streak (@CubsNoHitStreak) September 29, 2012
Which fan base feels the worst at the end of 2012 season? I vote: 1. PIT. 2. CLE. 3. BOS. I think Cubs fans just feel numb, at this pt.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 29, 2012
Bob Brenly named to TBS post season broadcasting team.Well deserved. Cubs should lock him up long term.
— chuck swirsky (@swirsk054) September 27, 2012
People like to criticize Bud Selig. But he looks like Winston Churchill compared to Gary Bettman and Roger Goodell.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) September 25, 2012
Just got an E-Mail from the #Cubs telling me “don’t miss the Cubs when the Astros come to town”.Oh I won’t.
— Jeff Aronson (@jamfan40) September 24, 2012
The replacement umps, man!
— Stan Croussett (@MindofStan) September 21, 2012
Wellington Castillio sounds like a brand of tequila #Cubs
— markb (@cubscoltsfan) September 29, 2012
— thecubreporter (@thecubreporter) September 27, 2012
The only NL teams to not make World Series since 1982 are #Cubs and Expos/Nationals.
— John Thomas (@JCTRambler) September 29, 2012
Anyone out there thing the #Cubs will avoid 100 losses? Nobody? Didn’t think so.
— Jimmy Greenfield (@jcgreenx) September 27, 2012
Back on twitter! uh oh
— Casey Coleman (@CColeman1727) September 27, 2012
— Dave Sappelt (@SappySappelt6) September 24, 2012
The thought Anthony Rizzo’s short, compact-swing would keep him out of prolonged slumps has been true thus far. But the rookie entered the series finale at Colorado on Thursday hitless over his last three games (0-for-11)–marking the first time this season he’s gone more than two-games without a hit.
Prior to his mini-slump, however, Rizzo raised his batting average eight-points (.286-.294), increased his on-base percentage 14-points (.333 – .347) and improved his OPS from .786 to .818 during an 18-game stretch from Sept. 3rd through Sept. 22nd.
That run came to an end with an 0-for-4 outing against the Cardinals last Sunday and continued through the first two-games at Colorado.
Rizzo drew a walk in his first at-bat yesterday before laying wood to a solo home run to right field in the top of the third inning–breaking his mini-slump and ending an 0-for-7 skid on the road trip. He finished the day 3-for-5 with 2 RBI, 2 walks and 1 run scored. And just like that, Rizzo’s slump, if we even want to call it one, is oh-vah!
Here’s the really cool part though, Rizzo’s numbers with Chicago through his first 81-games (exactly half a full season) projects out to 29 HR, 24 doubles and 90 RBI. Not as if we needed further proof this kid’s a legit big leaguer with all the makings of a future star.
I’m not entirely sure how I over-estimated the Cubs, but I did as of August 28th saying the team would avoid a 100-loss season.
In fact, I went as far to say the Cubs might only lose 94-games. That prediction, of course, is out the window with Chicago sitting at (59-97) and poised to reach triple-digit losses by week’s end.
Two reasons for my prediction:
But a (3-7) September homestand against the Pirates, Reds & Cardinals followed by the ugly three-game sweep at Colorado has wiped out the hope the Cubs will avoid 100-losses.
I’ll spare us further predictions, but here’s the skinny: the Cubs have six remaining games…(3) at Arizona and (3) at home vs. Houston…and need four more wins (63) to avoid the big 100.
Given the Cubs’ poor play as of late, particularly its starting pitching, I’d be shocked if they won the D-Backs series this weekend. And I also wouldn’t expect the Cubs to sweep the Astros series at home to close out the season, either.
That means we’re realistically looking at 2-3 more wins giving the Cubs either 101 or 102 losses.
Now, it hardly makes a difference whatever the final record turns out to be, but there is one last issue to address…that being the Cubs’ franchise-worst single-season record of 103-losses reached twice (1962-66).
One more win and the Cubs dodge matching the dubious record…but I won’t be surprised if one week from today we’re fuming over the Cubs going (0-11) to close out its season.
Unlikely, yes…but fool me twice, shame on me.
Ryan Dempster allowed 16-earned runs in his first 17.1 innings with the Rangers. Since then, however, he’s won six of his last seven starts improving to (7-2) with a 4.48 ERA with Texas.
In 10 starts with the Rangers Dempster’s allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s also pitched into the sixth-inning six times, reaching seven-innings once, and once more in an eight-inning effort. Only twice has he failed to reach the six-innings mark (4.3 & 3.1).
Including 16 starts with the Cubs this season, Dempster is (12-7) overall with a 3.07 ERA. He’s scheduled for two more regular season starts–at home against the Angels on Friday and at Oakland next Wednesday in the season finale.
Bottom Line: Dempster hasn’t dominated AL lineups the way he had in the NL, which was expected, but all things considered he’s been as good as advertised since Texas acquired him at the trade deadline.
PAUL MAHOLM: The former Cubs lefty evened his record with the Braves to (4-4) after tossing 6.2 shutout innings in a 3-0 win vs. Miami last night.
In 10 starts with Atlanta Maholm has allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s pitched six or more innings seven times, three times managed at least seven-innings and recorded one complete-game shutout.
Including his 20-starts with the Cubs this season, Maholm is (13-10) overall with a 3.71 ERA. His win-total is a career-high surpassing his 10-win season with Pittsburgh in 2007. He can be expected to make one final start this regular season coming at Pittsburgh on Monday.
Bottom Line: Maholm has pitched better than his record in Atlanta while adding solid rotation depth for the Braves’ postseason run. It’s turned out to be a career-year for the southpaw.
Reed Johnson has seen plenty of playing time since joining the Braves along with Paul Maholm on July 30th.
He’s appeared in 36-games, mainly as a late-inning defensive replacement, but has started 19-games while batting .278/.309/.333 with seven runs scored, five doubles and four RBI in 90 at-bats.
Including his 76-games spent with Chicago this year, Johnson is hitting .293, 3 HR, 20 RBI and a .745 OPS overall. His 17 pinch-hits leads the majors.
GEOVANY SOTO: A change of scenery hasn’t done much to help Soto offensively since joining the Rangers. He’s had plenty of opportunity, too. Regular backstop, Mike Napoli, was shelved for 33-games with a strained quad since early August.
In Soto’s 41-games with Texas, 36-starts, he’s batting a paltry .211 with six doubles, 5 HR, 24 RBI and a .641 OPS.
Although Soto’s experienced somewhat of a surge at the plate recently, 2 HR & 7 RBI over his last six starts, he’s batting .170 over his last 17-games.
To make matters worse, Soto’s already below-average 17.1-percent of runners caught stealing with the Cubs is down to 13.3-percent with Texas, having gunned-down just 4 of 30 base stealers.
I’d like to think Starlin Castro’s more patient plate approach has helped increase his power numbers this season, and maybe it has, but it’s also worth remembering the 22-year-old is just beginning to fill out his 6’0″, 190 lbs frame.
If Castro continues to mature physically over the next year or two, we might be looking at a guy who could hit 25-plus home runs per season, which would help put Starlin among the elite offensive shortstops in the game.
His solo HR to deep centerfield at Colorado last night gives him 14 long balls on the season–a career-high. It’s also the fourth best HR total among all MLB shortstops, with the Nationals’ Ian Desmond leading the way with 24 home runs.
Meanwhile, Castro’s .756 OPS ranks fifth best among all shortstops while his 77 RBI ranks first.
In addition, Starlin is the first Cub since Sammy Sosa in 1995 to record 25 stolen bases and 75 or more RBI. He also leads the club in multi-hit games (48) and has reached base safely in 122 of his 154-games played.
The fact Starlin amassed 500 career hits before his 23rd birthday only confirms what a natural talent Castro is with the bat. And it’s exciting to imagine what a finely tuned plate approach and a bigger body might turn this kid into in the coming seasons.
As frustrating as Castro can be at times, especially on defense, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves this is a special, special player the Cubs have locked-up long-term (seven-years with the option for an eighth).
Of course, sky-high potential brings sky-high expectations. Whether or not Starlin can deliver, I don’t know. But right now I wouldn’t bet against him.
We can take solace the Cubs gained an edge in the race for the No.2 overall pick in next year’s amateur Draft by losing 10-5 at Colorado last night. But I’d still take a series win vs. the Rockies, even if it comes at the cost of losing the No.2 selection.
I never take Cubs losses easily, and I certainly won’t root against Chicago so they can pick one spot higher next spring. Not everyone will agree, of course, but I believe you win first and worry about the Draft second.
As it stands this morning, the Cubs (59-95) hold a one-game lead over Colorado (60-94) for the No.2 overall pick. Houston (50-105) has already wrapped up the No.1 overall pick next spring.
53-MAN ROSTER: No surprise the Cubs set a new single-season franchise record by utilizing 53 different players this season. The previous mark of 51 players used was set in 2000 when Chicago lost 97-games. It’s a blatant reminder of just how much the Cubs lack overall talent at the major league level, especially on the mound.
NUMBER ONE: Congratulations to Dave Sappelt on his first big league HR, a leadoff blast in the top of the first against left-hander Jorge De La Rosa in Colorado last night. Sappelt hit .331 vs. lefties at Triple-A Iowa this season before his callup on September 1st. He finished last night’s contest 2-for-4 and is batting .265 with the Cubs through 17-games (12 starts).
The Cubs’ inability to win its weekend series against St. Louis effectively ended the National League wild card chase, which I found more frustrating than the club’s pursuit of avoiding a 100-loss season. Chicago still needs four more victories, by the way, to reach 63-wins.
So go ahead and pencil the Cardinals in as the second wild card team (Atlanta) now that both the Dodgers and Brewers find themselves 3.5 games back of St. Louis.
The Cards, meanwhile, began its season-ending stretch with another win against the pathetic Astros Monday night…and they’re certain to win at least one more game at Houston to wrap up the three-game series.
Although the NL East champion Nationals visit the Cardinals next, Davey Johnson says he’ll rest his starters before the postseason. And it’s likely the same will be said for Dusty Baker’s NL Central champion Reds, who follow Washington to St. Louis to finish out the 162-game schedule.
Even if St. Louis only manages to go .500 the rest of the way (4-4) they’ll finish with 87-wins, meaning Los Angeles and Milwaukee will need to win eight of its remaining nine-games just to tie the Cardinals…hard to believe that happens. Sigh…
So which teams roll-over against St. Louis this October? Nats, Reds, Giants, Braves…Rangers? I’d count on the Brewers and Phillies, but neither apparently wanted to wait as long as last year to disappoint.