A few weeks ago I walked down the street and went on the Wrigley Field Ballpark Tour.
That afternoon the Cubs’ were holding tryouts for the organization’s Seventh Inning Stretch competition.
All the participants were lined up in front of the Cubs’ dugout waiting their turn to step up to the microphone and belt out a memorable rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Yesterday afternoon Gonzalo Palacios, a Spanish-language pastor from Elmwood Park, Ill., won the competition.
I thought he nailed it, vocally and emotionally.
It’s always nice to see good things happen to people who love life, and without question, Gonzo is a lover, both of life and Cubs baseball. Good for him.
Here’s my original post of the ballpark tour, the pics are below.
If you have the chance to take the tour, GO.
The tour begins underneath the famous red marquee
Here's the view from the Comcast Sports Net suite
Hello from the visitor's locker room!
The view from the left field bleacher seats...ummm BEER!
Next, we headed down to the Cubs locker room
Three of my favorites: Marmol, Aramis & Edmonds
My Dad, a.k.a. "The Gare Bear," does his best 'Lou' from the Cubs' dugout
The view from the Cubs' on-deck circle
- Monday September 1st – Wrigley Field
- Game (138): Astros 3 – Cubs 0
- Record (85-53) – 1st place NL Central
The skinny: Last September 1st I was sitting two rows behind home plate at Wrigley Field for a game against the Astros.
I could smell Alfonso Soriano in the on-deck circle. He reeks of money.
Coincidentally, Jason Marquis was on the hill facing rookie left-hander Troy Patton (now with Baltimore).
Marquis tossed 6.2 innings of 2-R baseball and the Cubs edged Houston 4-3 to keep a 1.5 G lead over Milwaukee in the division.
Of course, the Cubs’ lineup looked a lot different than it did today: Ryan Dempster notched his 24th save, Bob Howry had a respectable 3.61 ERA, Jason Kendall was catching, Craig Monroe was in right field and Jacque Jones manned center.
Fast forward to today…Marquis goes 6 innings, allows 2-R, but falls 3-0 against the Astros.
Now, I’ve been hard on Marquis all season, but, despite any comments about the right-hander’s inconsistency, the Cubs just don’t score runs when he’s on the bump.
Take for instance Marquis’ lowest point this season – a four game losing streak from June 26th to August 1st – the Cubs scored one or fewer runs in five of his six starts.
No pitcher wins games with that kind of offensive output.
And although I wouldn’t mind seeing Samardzija replace Jason in the rotation, I hand it to Marquis for being a gammer: he’s lasted into the sixth inning in his last 10 starts while posting a (5-3) road record.
Yet, it’s the same old story for Marquis this afternoon: Cubs get shutout on four hits.
Granted, Roy Oswalt was hurling for Houston, but it’s not like the Cubs have been efficient at the plate lately either.
Since Soriano’s game-winning bomb Friday, the Cubs have strung together 27 consecutive singles without an extra base hit.
On the bright side, Jon Lieber is back after an extended trip on the DL; his return is a huge plus for this bullpen (2-3, 3.43 ERA).
And, Koyie Hill is back after his horrific off season accident in which he severely severed the fingers on his right throwing hand.
W – Oswalt (13-9) – Valverde (38)
L – Marquis (9-8)
- Notes: Here are the September call ups: IF Micah Hoffpauir, IF Casey McGehee, C Koyie Hill & RP Michael Wuertz.
- Also, pitchers Angel Guzman & Jon Lieber were both activated from the DL.
- Chicago has not lost three straight home games since August last year: Mets (0-1), Cincinnati (0-2).
- Jason Marquis is (7-3) during day games and (2-5) under the lights.
- Esquire Magazine put together a list of the best performances singing the national anthem at a sporting event. Ron Messmer’s singing of the anthem at the 1991 NHL All Star game is in the top five.
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- Thursday August 28th – Wrigley Field
- Game (134): Cubs 6 – Phillies 4
- Record (84-50) – 1st place NL Central
The skinny: Most Cubs fans voted Carlos Marmol the team MVP last season, his 1.46 ERA speaking for itself.
However, my ’07 vote went to Aramis and his 26 HRs, 101 RBIs and .310 avg. – Marmol being a close second, mind you.
And I’m sticking with Aramis as team MVP again this year too.
No Cub is a better hitter in the clutch than Ramirez; not Soriano, not Lee, Theriot or Soto.
Ramirez loves the lime light, the drama and the chance to play hero.
His knack at coming through in a pinch isn’t coincidence, the guy lives for it.
And, I love him for it!
Plus, Ramirez is as good as it gets defensively at third; he’s also a solid teammate and a gammer playing through nagging injuries.
So, where would the Cubs be without Ramirez’s 24 bombs and 99 RBIs?
Probably not leading the division, of course.
Still, the better answer is recognizing how important Ramirez is to this lineup when it comes to key situations.
This season Ramirez leads the team in both game-winning RBIs (15) and 2-out RBIs (25).
He is the definition of an MVP type player!!!
Cole Hamels was so dominate this evening you could see the Cubs’ body language change immediately with the lefty out of the game.
Obviously, that left Ryan Madson (who’s no pushover out of the pen, 3.56 ERA entering tonight’s game) in a tough spot; the Cubs eager to see anything but a Hamels’ change-up.
And more, Chad Durbin has been even better for the Phils (1.95 ERA entering the game), but by the time the right-hander relieved Madson the Cubs had the momentum and Aramis at the plate.
Grand Salami – Game over.
Nice relief outing from Bob Howry: 1-2-3 inning, 9 of 10 pitches going for strikes with two ground ball outs and one K.
Most importantly, he protected a one-run lead: it’s about time.
W – Howry (6-4) – Wood (28)
L – Durbin (5-3)
- Notes: Chicago is 34 games above .500 for the first time in 63 years: 34 games in 1945.
- At Wrigley they’re (50-19).
- The Cubs are (9-1) in its last 10 games against lefty starters and (27-12) vs. lefties for the season.
- This is the Cubs’ 38th come-from-behind victory of the season.
- Aramis’ GS is the eighth of his career.
- Thursday August 21st – Wrigley Field
- Game (127): Cubs 3 – Reds 2
- Record (78-49) – 1st place NL Central
The skinny: Pulled a Ferris Bueller and went to the Cubs game this afternoon. I sat nine rows behind the Reds dugout, courtesy tickets from a friend.
It’s good to have friends, isn’t it?
Unless I’m sitting in the bleachers I always seem to enter Wrigley through the main gate underneath the giant red marquee.
I’d like to think as a seasoned baseball fan I’d sniff out the best deal for a brat long before today, but I haven’t, until now of course.
Hidden just inside the gate to the right is a food station called ‘Super Dawgs.’
Get this, a foot long brat for $6.50, all toppings included.
I went bratwurst with grilled peppers, hot peppers, mustard and relish, all for $6.50.
Grab a regular hotdog at one of the main stations and you’re paying $4.50.
Kind of makes me feel like I won one.
Thankfully the weather held off too, the slight drizzle not enough to make me vacate my seat.
Big Z pretty much handled business on both fronts: 1-R, 6-H in 7-IP and smacked his fourth dinger of the season in the third inning.
And despite a monstrous blast from Jay Bruce, Carlos Marmol and Wood did a nice job closing too.
Because it’s the Reds this win will be forgotten about as quickly as it ended, but it’s an important victory.
The Cubs must take advantage of its home-heavy month of August and needed the series win against the last place Red Stockings.
After all, the Reds went 0-for-15 with RISP during the three-game set, and that doesn’t happen too frequently.
How typical for the last place Reds to pay Josh Fogg to pitch (2-6, 7.66 ERA).
He’s even below the right-handed equivalent of an Eric Milton.
Nonetheless, the Reds’ newest outfielder Chris Dickerson looks like a real stud: big, strong and fast.
That’s a heckuva of an outfield with Bruce, Dickerson and Hairston (when back off the DL).
Anyway, back to reality tomorrow, it’s called work for a reason, right?
W – Zambrano (13-5) – Wood (26)
L – Fogg (2-6)
- Notes: Zambrano now has 16 career home runs, five have come against Cincinnati.
- Besides his 13 wins – (4-0) vs. Cincy – the switch hitter also extended his hitting streak to seven games.
- Derek Lee a.k.a “DP Lee,” hit into his league leading 24th twin killing.
- Joey Votto has 15 home runs this season, including a solo shot in the 8th this afternoon, seven have come against Chicago.
- Best marquee sign of the day from Clark St: Without Griffey Reds are Dunn.
- Saturday August 16th – Dolphins Stadium
- Game (123): Marlins 2 – Cubs 1
- Record (75-48) – 1st place NL Central
The skinny: Took in the Chicago Air & Water Show this afternoon.
Fighter jets roared above the downtown skyline while water crafts skipped along Lake Michigan’s coast.
Each time the Blue Angles buzzed North Avenue I got goose bumps!
Meanwhile, the Cubs played another typical game against the Marlins, losing 2-1.
Granted Lou rested some regulars (D. Lee, Aramis and Soto), eight hits, seven walks and 13 left on base should get the job done.
So, no goose bumps from the Cubbies.
Not a bad outing from Sean Marshall, although you’d love to see this guy last into the sixth for a change.
Obviously it’s a bummer the nine-game road winning streak comes to an end, but who ever thought the Cubs would string this many together away from Wrigley to begin with?
A win tomorrow on get-away-day and the Cubs take the series and finish the road trip 5-1, not too shabby.
W – Sanchez (2-2) – Gregg (27)
L – Marshall (2-3)
The Chicago Air & Water Show
That's me on the top left
- Notes: Today’s loss marks the end of Chicago’s nine-game road winning streak.
- The Cubs averaged 8.4 runs per game over the nine-game stretch while batting (.311 avg.).
- This was Marshall’s first start since July 6th.
- Derek Lee went 1-for-2 in collecting his 1,500th career hit.
- Friday August 15th – Dolphins Stadium
- Game (122): Cubs 6 – Marlins 5
- Record (75-47) – 1st place NL Central
The skinny: I could hear the cheers around Wrigleyville echoing through my apartment window before big D. Ward’s pinch hit HR fell into the right field seats.
What a huge emotional lift for the Cubs and specifically the team’s primary pinch hitter.
Prior to Ward’s at-bat, the slugger was swamped in an 0-for-13 slump, and just 4-for-20 coming off the bench all year, a far cry from his .327 pinch-hit average a year ago.
Give Lou credit for sticking with the big man–through thick and thin.
Ward is, after all, a rare catch by pinch hitting standards: professional at-bats, high contact hitter and has some power, too.
No question Ward’s game-winning blast immediately rerouted the focus from Zambrano’s poor outing to the team’s dramatic one-run win.
Although Carlso is winless in his last three starts, I’m without worry. There appears to be nothing wrong with him physically, just the usual lose nuts and bolts upstairs.
I’m simply chalking up Zambrano’s outing as a bad day. Besides, Ward’s given us reason to celebrate!
W – Gaudin (9-4) – Wood (25)
L – Gregg (6-5)
- Notes: Tonight’s win marks the Cubs 35th come-from-behind win of the season, that leads MLB.
- Ward’s PH dong is the 11th of his career.
- His last hoe run came July 22nd at Arizona.
- DeRosa’s 14th HR is a new career-high.
- Thursday August 14th – Turner Field
- Game (121): Cubs 11 – Braves 7
- Record (74-47) – 1st place NL Central
The skinny: This afternoon I did the Wrigley Field ballpark tour.
From start to finish the tour was timely, informative and money well spent.
Plus, the Blue Angles continually buzzed the stadium while practicing for this weekend’s Air & Water Show and the weather was impeccable too: 75-degrees and sunny.
Soon I’ll upload some pictures from the tour onto the site as well.
Basically, here’s how it works. A ballpark tour guide leads a group of 30 or so people around the yard while talking about the history and nuances of Wrigley Field.
We began the tour sitting in the third base grandstands, then moved to the luxury suites, next through the press box, followed by the visitor’s locker room, moved down to the bleacher seats and finally wrapped things up with the Cubs’ locker room and a trip onto the playing field.
My favorite part, the visitor’s locker room: it’s small, outdated, yet overflowing with history.
It’s surreal knowing you’re standing in the same room that was once occupied by Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente and even Vince Lombardi – just to name a few.
As for the game this evening, the benches clearing probably helped release some pressure from both parties.
And most importantly, no Cubs were injured in an unnecessary field brawl.
I’m a huge Tommy Glavine fan, but the 42-year-old is looking his age: 7-R, 7-H, 4-BB & 2-HR (4-IP).
I hope the southpaw Hall of Famer hangs it up after this season.
So, the Cubs’ sweep against the Braves gives the team eight straight road victories.
Don’t look now, but Chicago is merely one game below .500 on the road (29-30).
It’s all about the offense folks…the Cubs have scored 6(+) runs in all eight games.
And better still, the club has scored 5 or more runs in 20 of its last 22 victories: WOW!
Obviously, it’s wonderful the offense is clicking on all cylinders, but what happens if it sputters?
Gee, I hope the team won’t have to rely on Bob Howry (5.53 ERA): 3-R, 4-H, in 0.2 innings pitched tonight.
Still, watching the Cubs play this past week has been a real treat; tremendous hitting, solid pitching and several outstanding defensive plays have preserved its 4G lead in the Central.
Look out tomorrow though; it’s those damn Marlins again.
No question things haven’t gone the Cubs way in Miami lately, but maybe an eight-game winning streak can reverse the team’s poor fortunes at South Beach.
Also, how many people do you think would show up for a ballpark tour of Dolphin Stadium?
W – Lilly (12-6)
L – Glavine (2-4)
- Notes: The Cubs have won 7 of 8 and 14 of its last 17 games overall.
- They’ve also improved its road record to just one game below .500 at (29-30).
- Chicago is (7-0) in its last 7 starts against left-handers.
- They’re also (24-11) on the season when facing a lefty.
- Ted Lilly has identical home and road records this season, (6-3).
- Friday August 8th – Wrigley Field
- Game (116): Cubs 3 – Cardinals 2 – 10 innings
- Record (70-46) – 1st place NL Central
The skinny: Call him ‘Jimmy Business’: today’s game was a personal matter for Mr. Edmonds.
Two clutch home runs – the first shot giving Chicago a 1-0 lead, the second tying the game 2-all in the seventh – against the team that left him for dead.
It’s just another reminder that anything is possible when you’re inspired.
For weeks I’ve campaigned on Jimmy’s behalf for Cubs fans to adopt the once hated Cardinal.
Yet, despite Edmonds leading the team in batting during June, his two home run effort in one inning against the Sox, his dramatic Wrigley Field blast against the Braves and his grand slam against the Brewers, Cubs fans still find reasons to shun the man.
Sorry, there are no more excuses to do so after today’s game.
In Edmonds’ last 14 starts he’s collected 14 RBIs while batting .357 (15-for-42), and 13 of his last 17 hits have gone for extra bases (7 2B & 6 HR).
I get it, the guy use to be a Cubs killer, but what’s not to appreciate about Edmonds’ play with Chicago?
Including today’s effort, Ted Lilly has 15 quality starts in 25 outings this season.
Sure, he’s been prone to allowing the long ball and his strikeout totals don’t compare to Zambrano or Hardin, but don’t underestimate Lilly’s value to this starting staff.
Plus, not only is the southpaw an innings eater, but he throws well in meaningful games too.
And more, it’s a pitcher like Lilly who’s capable of being the difference maker for this club come October.
Basically, the front-running teams in the NL have a solid one-two punch at the top of the rotation – Arizona: Webb & Haren, Milwaukee: Sheets & Sabathia – but none have a three or four man the likes of Lilly and Dempster.
Obviously, this is a huge advantage for the Cubs in post season play.
On the other hand, and as I keep saying, the Cubs’ bullpen is the team’s glaring weakness.
Although, I will say the threesome of Marmol, Samardzija and Howry pitched very well this afternoon combining for 0-R, 1-H and 4-K in the final 3.2 innings.
And, with Woody (4-2, 2.96 ERA & 24 saves) still battling his own body on the sidelines (stiff back), that’s a huge performance from the pen.
Still, I’m with little confidence the Cubs’ bullpen will maintain its success from today without adding help from outside the organization.
Heading into September with this bullpen is asking for trouble, and that’s a crying shame considering the Cubs’ extra rotation weapons of Lilly and Dempster.
Finally, why do teams still run against Soriano’s accurate arm in left field?
Surely, the opposition’s advance scouting has taken note of the left fielder’s tendency to throw out runners at home, right?
Whatever the case, it’s foolish to send a runner home from third against Alfonso’s arm, just ask Joe Mather who was gunned down by Sori’s perfect throw home in the sixth.
I’m not sure why, but I like the idea of Zambrano managing more RBIs than strikeouts tomorrow!
W – Howry (5-4)
L – Franklin (4-5)
- Notes: The Cubs have won (10 of 12) and 12 of its last 16 games.
- The club’s (44-16) record at home is the best in MLB.
- Chicago is the first NL team to reach 70 wins.
- Chicago is (32-21) vs. the NL Central.
- They’re also (8-5) in extra inning games.
- Hank White’s walk-off single marks the Cubs’ 12th win in its final at-bat.
- Ted Lilly is 7-0 this season when throwing 6+ innings.
- Monday July 28th – Miller Park
- Game (106): Cubs 6 – Brewers 4
- Record (62-44) – 1st place NL Central
- 20-Games in 20-Days – (5-6)
The skinny: Playoff games typically come down to pitching and defense.
So, it’s no surprise tonight’s playoff-like matchup was determined by both.
Had it not been for Rickie Weeks’ throwing error in the seventh, the Cubs probably come out with the short end of the stick.
Nonetheless, the Cubbies found a way to win, and that’s what good teams do.
The Cubs’ lineup worked CC Sabathia – 124 pitches – for 4 runs on 9 hits with 3 stolen bases and just three punch outs.
That’s a helluva job considering CC was (4-0) with a 1.36 ERA since joining Milwaukee.
Still, CC isn’t the only obstacle the Cubs have to conquer in this four-game series.
The Brewers post the second best home record in the NL (32-20), lead the NL Central in divisional games with a (28-19) record, and flaunted a (22-11) record against lefties entering tonight’s game.
Not to mention, the Brew Crew also leads the majors with (20) wins in its final at-bat and have the support of ‘Brewers Fever’ in Miller Park: tonight set a franchise record of eight straight sellouts.
Anyway, Lilly pitched well again on the road; walking just one batter, striking out four and kept the Cubs in the game into the seventh inning.
Lilly gets overlooked on this staff headlined by Zambrano, Dempster and Harden, but the lefty has been a godsend away from Wrigley and on a team that’s seven games under on the road (23-30).
In Lilly’s last three road starts entering tonight’s outing he’s (3-0) with a 2.18 ERA, and (5-3) overall away from home.
Really, the only downside to Lilly’s campaign has been his knack for allowing the long ball.
So, how fitting Hardy and Braun go back-to-back in the sixth to tie the game 2-all.
In 23 starts this season Lilly has served up 25 dingers, including the two this evening, and that’s just three short of his season total from a year ago (28).
Nonetheless, the guy has been wonderful in my opinion, home or away.
Speaking of road games, as of late the Cubs have played better away from the Friendly Confines.
In the last nine road series the club has posted a (3-4-2) mark, which, has been improvement enough to keep them atop the NL Central for 11 weeks.
However, with the way the Central is shaping up, this tally needs to withstand a (.500) winning percentage in the final two months.
And, for the Cubs to reach such mediocrity, they’ll need the return of its big-bats in the lineup.
Thankfully, D. Lee showed up this evening to capture the glory going 3-for-5 with 3-RBIs, but he was also a bad throw away from padding his NL lead of GIDP.
Still, give the man some credit for putting the ball in play, even if Weeks should have turned the hit into two outs, and his game-winning double in the ninth.
And, despite his recent subpar homestand (4-for-18), Lee is batting (.326 avg.) in July (32-for-98) and has also managed 47 hits in his last 34 games.
On the contrary, Lee’s late inning heroics shouldn’t have been necessary with the Cubs leading by one-run entering the seventh.
Hello Bob Howry – a.k.a. – the weak link.
Seriously, I’m speechless.
And all I have to say about Howry can be read here.
Should be another heart-stopper tomorrow night: Zambrano vs. Sheets.
Now, let’s just hope Lou doesn’t phone Howry
W – Gaudin (7-4) – Marmol (5)
L – Torres (5-3)
- Notes: The Cubs have not played a series at Miller Park since June 4-6th, 2007, Chicago won two of three.
- In games decided by two or fewer runs the Cubs are (26-29).
- In the last two games Soriano is 5-for-9 with a HR and five runs scored.
- Since beginning the season (0-3) with Cleveland, CC Sabathia has rebounded to go (10-5) with a sparkling ERA just above 2.00.
- Sunday July 27th – Wrigley Field
- Game (105): Cubs 9 – Marlins 5
- Record (61-44) – 1st place NL Central
- 20-Games in 20-Days – (4-6)
The skinny: You have to figure Lou is going to find some more at-bats for Mike Fontenot in Milwaukee.
Since June 19th the little guy has gone (24-for-69) at the dish (.347avg.) including at least one extra base hit in his last 13 games.
Overall this season, Fontenot is batting (.284 avg.) with 8 HRs and 28 RBIs in 52 games off the bench and 34 starts.
Put those numbers next to Fukudome’s – (.277avg.), 7 HRs and 36 RBIs – and there’s a case to move DeRosa to right field and start Fontenot at second base.
And, given the lack of offense recently, I could part with Fukudome’s superior defensive skills in the outfield, at least temporarily.
Plus, with Edmonds’ ailing knee, Fukudome could make a few starts in centerfield as well.
Granted the Cubs have only scored one or fewer runs in three of Marquis’ last four starts, but he’s still (0-4) in his last four outings.
And while Marquis has put together a decent season, his overall record is just (6-6) with a 4.69 ERA.
So, when Woody return from the DL (Tuesday), I’d give some thoughts to replacing Marquis in the rotation with Jeff Samardzija.
Besides, Jeff has climbed through the minors as a starting pitcher anyway, going (4-1) with a 3.13 ERA in six starts at triple-A Iowa.
So, it’s not as if this would be a major adjustment for the Cubs’ newest member.
Meanwhile, I’d like to see Jim Hendry deal Marquis for some bullpen help with Samardzija becoming the No. 5 guy in the rotation.
But, a move of this sort won’t come easy.
First of all, Marquis is still under contract for one more season in Chicago, including being due the hefty sum of $9.87 million dollars owed to him in 2009.
Secondly, like a used car, we’re not talking about a high-performance pitcher here.
Still, Marquis’ right-arm can be of value to a few clubs in the post season chase, perhaps even Colorado – just 6 GB in the West.
For one thing, Marquis has been incredibly durable in his eight-year career making at least 32 starts with more than 190 innings pitched and 12 wins in the last four seasons alone.
Not to mention, every club he’s played for has made the post season and the guy can swing it too (Silver Slugger Award winner in 2005).
Yet, the key to such a deal is acquiring a quality bullpen arm, and that won’t come easy.
However, whether Marquis can be traded or not, I still stand firm that Hendry must improve the bullpen, and soon.
Contrary to the Cubs’ (48-4) record when leading after the seventh inning, just look back at the last week where three of these four losses occurred.
The Cubs have entered its seventh inning at-bat with a one-run lead in three of its last four games.
Furthermore, since the All Star break the club has begun the seventh inning either leading by one-run or trailing by one-run in five of its nine ballgames.
And chances are this trend will continue facing the likes of Sabathia and Sheets in Milwaukee.
Now, let’s go a step further. Chicago finishes the season playing 16 of 22 games on the road in what can be assumed to be a tight division race against Milwaukee and St. Louis.
And to this point, Chicago is (4-10-3) in its road series this season.
Mainly, the Cubs’ road woes lie with the team’s struggled to consistently score runs away from Wrigley, thus, we can expect many of these September contests to be close games.
So, the bullpen appears to be the key to winning the division crown.
Strengthening the pen is a MUST!
W – Gaudin (6-4) – Samardzija (1)
L – Hendrickson (7-6)
- Notes: Chicago has been tied or has lead the NL Central race for the past 11 weeks.
- In 18 home series the Cubs are (13-3-2).
- And, in its last 10 series the club is (8-1-1).
- Today’s win also even the club’s record in July to (11-11).
- Tomorrow’s starting pitcher in Milwaukee, Ted Lilly, has won his last four road starts.