Cubs Come Back Big

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:43 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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I was all ready to write an entry on the Cubs' recent lack of offensive power. They routed the Cardinals on Sunday and had a solid win last Tuesday against the Reds. But in their past five losses, the Cubs managed a total of eight runs. Night after night, the Cubs didn’t come out swinging or play their smartest game. I was worried that their injuries were finally catching up to them.

Then came tonight's eruption. They dominated the Arizona Diamondbacks 11-3 behind Zambrano's strong pitching and hitting. He picked up his first win since the season opener, showing the same first-class skills he did that night three weeks ago in Houston. In addition to doing a fantastic job on the mound, Zambrano also proved he could be an offensive threat, singling in the third, doubling in the fifth and homering in the seventh.

The only thing I’m worried about now is the Cubs’ consistency. While they have been able to dominate some games by double-digit margins, they have also managed to lose the tight ones due to their lack of run production. But once Lee, Marmol, Ramirez and Bradley heal from their injuries, the Cubs should have enough thump in the lineup to prove why they should be NL Central champs once again. --- Katie Tang

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Soto's Slow Start

  • Monday, April 27, 2009 8:00 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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It's easy for anxious fans to reassure themselves that the season is still young and that their favorite slugger who's amid a slow start will awaken and return to form. The truth is, we've already played 20 games and that window at the beginning of the year to work out the kinks is on its way to closing up. Pretty soon without some more production, players may be shipped off to the minors. Batting averages have already begun to solidify with 50-plus at-bats already in the books for the average starting player. Cubs fans will have noticed among the averages of the key players from last year, a few of them are seriously underperforming; namely, Soto and Lee. We've discussed Lee's situation quite thoroughly already in the live blog and in an earlier post so I'm going to take this opportunity to discuss our very own rookie of the year, Geovany Soto.

Soto's numbers for last year are as follows: BA .285, OBP .364, SLG .504 RBI 86. These numbers, along with stellar defense, were enough to secure Geo a basically uncontested (Joey Votto received the second-most points and was still 80 shy of Geo) rookie of the year award. It is important for Cubs fans to understand that Geo's surging 2008 numbers at the plate were an added and unexpected bonus.

In '08, Soto was an extremely reliable, defensively solid catcher with a 27 percent caught-stealing rate and only five passed balls. These numbers were among the best in the league and they are precisely what was predicted of him, his offensive production was a sweet little surprise.

BA .128, OBP, .292, SLG .154 RBI 2.

When looking at Soto's offensive numbers to start off the year, we must remind ourselves of two things:

1. Soto missed most of spring training for the World Baseball Classic and therefore many consider these first 20 or so games to be Soto's own personal Cactus League. But, if you ask me, this seems like an excuse for bad play more than a solid explanation of rustiness.

2. Although you'd love to have a guy that is consistent through seasons, many players do not function this way. For whatever reason Soto put up very strong offensive numbers last year; stronger than expected. For whatever reason Soto has been unable to hit even a duck snort into shallow right so far this year. Cubs fans should take these two points as the extremes of Soto's performance and expect a happy medium.

So Cubbie faithful, don't get too down on Soto, he'll pick it up. He's proven for a number of years in the minors and one amazing year in the pros that he can hit a heck of a lot better than he is now; it's only a matter of time. Furthermore, I haven't even discussed one of the aspects of his play that makes him invaluable to this club and that is his dynamic ability to manage Cubs pitching. A catcher's capacity to call pitches and work well with the pitching staff is arguably the most important qualifier to a great catcher, and Soto's got that in spades. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Harken back to his September heroics and remember why he's the right man for the job.



--- Charlie

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Cubs Live 4/26

  • Sunday, April 26, 2009 12:22 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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The Cubs will break their four-game losing streak today when they face the Cardinals. Why? Because we're bringing the positive mojo of the Diaries Live Blog. As long as you bring the potato salad and join us, everything will be just fine.

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Lou's Experiment With the Lineup, Shaky Pitching Leads to Tough Loss

  • Saturday, April 25, 2009 7:18 AM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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Last week there was a discussion on this blog whether Soriano is a new leadoff hitter prototype. Turns out, Lou Pinella has been thinking about Soriano and the leadoff position. Yesterday, against the Cards Lou decided to move Soriano to thrid in the lineup, and moved Theriot up to the leadoff spot.

The Cardinals won the game for a few reasons:

1) Pitching. Dempster pitched a decent game, but had a rough inning where he gave up 3 runs. Marmol essentially gave the game away in the 8th, and got injured in the process.

2) The Cardinal offense. We have seen already this season that this Cardinals team has significant offensive fire power. It is obvious that they are from the city with the highest murder rate in the USA (in all fairness, this is partly due to the disputed unicorporation line that divides the county from the city), because they are deadly with a wooden bat. Last night, Pujols also showed that he can do it with his legs in the pivotal eighth inning where he hit a single, stole second, and then scored on Ryan Ludwick's single. Pujols is really a once in a lifetime kind of player and its unfortunate that he plays in the same division as the Cubs.

3) The lineup change. Now, I know there are many who might disagree with me, but I love Soriano at the top of the order. OBP aside, there is something magical about a leadoff hitter who has the power to hit a dinger every time he is at the plate. Now, I know he chases wild pitches sometimes, I know he strikes out too much to be a leadoff hitter,etc. Just bear with me. I really feel that the success of many great hitters is in part due to psychology-- getting in the opposing pitcher's head, outguessing and manipulating a pitcher to throw the pitch you want, when you want it.

Soriano is extremely intimidating to pitchers at any spot in the lineup, but I would argue that he is most intimidating at the leadoff position. Soriano at leadoff also gives the whole cubs lineup a little extra bite, it is as if we are saying, "we are so fresh that our leadoff hitter can hit homeruns like your guy who hits third, that's how much better we are than you". Once we place a prototypical leadoff hitter in the lineup, our edge dissipates and we end up with non-intimidating Theroit up at the plate in the 9th inning with one out and the tying run on first. Admit that you would have rather seen Soriano. I'd put money on the fact that Lou was thinking the same thing, or he could have been distracted by the thought of a Doughnut.

We'll be live blogging the game tomorrow, be sure to join us. Nowhere else can you get this diehard humor and analysis. Also, A-Ram got a little hurt last night, it's unclear how long he will be out for. Enjoy your Saturday!



--- Daniel.

Don't Worry, It's Still Early

  • Friday, April 24, 2009 6:58 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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“Don’t Worry, It’s Still Early”

That’s about the most common line you hear from baseball fans this time of year. The Cubs are looking up in the standings at the Reds and Pirates? Come on, It’s still April! Christian Guzman is leading the NL in batting average? Don’t worry, it’s early.

Before you know it though, it’s too late. Sure, you can chalk up just about anything in baseball to the fact that the calendar hasn’t yet reached May, let alone June – but as players get increasingly closer to the 100-at-bat mark numbers start to solidify.

So if you’re a Cubs fan, you officially have 42 at-bats before you begin to worry about Derek Lee. The 33-year-old has manned first base for the Cubs since 2004 and his defense hasn’t slipped – he could very easily add to the one Gold Glove he’s won with Chicago. The same can not be said for his offense.

After a monster 2005 season that saw him hit .335 with 46-round trippers and lead the league in doubles, on base percentage and slugging percentage, Lee got injured 50 games in to the 2006 season and he hasn’t been himself since. He hit 22 and 20 bombs in ’07 and ’08 respectively and hasn’t come within 100 total bases of his 2005 total.

This year Lee’s decline has been precipitous. Again, he’s only logged 58 at-bats, but he’s hitting .207 and isn’t on pace to come close to his customary 40+ double total. As a result, the Cubs offense has not lived up to the hype they generated before the season started. Granted he isn’t the only Cub to have struggled with the bat thus far, but the others – Soto, whose very young and is coming off a nagging injury and Bradley, whose been a streaky hitter his whole career – shouldn’t elicit panic yet. Worse still, Lee has hit .304 and has been counted on as a consistent source of middle-of-the-order production since arriving from Florida; and with his slump the lineup – considered the most feared in all the National League – doesn’t scare teams the way North Siders anticipated it would.

Lee is in his 13th season and he’s reaching the age where a poor season might not be just an aberration, but a sign of what’s to come. The Cubs are about kick off their second series with the arch-rival Cardinals in the young season, and with the NL Central looking tougher than expected this series could set the tone for the first third of the season. Lee needs to start coming around before it’s too late to say “don’t worry it’s still early”.

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Just Look Away

  • Thursday, April 23, 2009 7:17 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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I've been noticing this Reds team for a few years now. Whenever they come to town I get the distinct feeling that most Cubs fans take them pretty lightly. Frankly, I don't really blame them because you have to look past their dismal record (74-88 in '08 and 72-90 in 07) and peer into what could be a very bright future to see anything other than mediocrity. Players like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce have been brewing in the Reds' farm system for a couple years and not only are they ready for the bigs, their stellar performance is turning some heads. They've also been developing a powerful rotation of young arms that, even with the pronounced lack of consistency that we see now, with some guidance, has potential to be a powerhouse pitching staff. Anyway, enough about the Reds, they may have played well, but we lost this series with mistakes, not by being over-powered by a better squad.

I'm only going to point out two things that really irked me during this series.

1. Lackadaisical play: We are less than 15 games into a very long season. There is absolutely no room for laziness on the diamond this year, or for that matter any year. I cannot stand when I see my beloved cubbies not sprinting into first base on every single ground ball. I don't care if 95% of the time it's going to be an out, there is no excuse for not hoofing it. This is just one example of the languid play this club needs to avoid. Playing against the Reds this week I couldn't help but notice some of this behavior creeping in. I can only hope that Piniella noticed as well and has a plan for biting this little problem in the butt.

2. Sleeping bats: The amount of fire-power we've got in this lineup is practically unrivaled in the league. Let's see, last year we had the most run production in the league by far, our team OBP was through the roof, even our pitchers were solid hitters (Zambrano and Lilly). In the off season we added a guy that has hit .300 the past 2 seasons with 22 hrs last year (Bradley) as well as a number of other solid bats and yet we get blanked one day and then can only manage 1 run the next. I know that things will come around, and everybody will wake up but it's just hard to watch when you've got all the pieces and for whatever reason it just doesn't come together.

Also, Hoffpauir is officially not an outfielder so don't pull that crap again Piniella, it's disastrous. Here's to hoping the men in blue pick up the slack and do a better job against the red birds this weekend.

--- Charlie

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Cold But Memorable Night at Wrigley

  • Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:25 AM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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My on-the-scene highlights from Wrigley Field:

It was a solid showing of baseball for my first game back at Wrigley Field in nearly two years. Harden pitched tremendously better than his last start, giving up only three hits and two walks while striking out eight. The rest of the Cubs also played a great game, beating the Reds 7-2 for their third straight win at home.

Micah Hoffpauir’s home run in the second inning had fans calling him Micah "Full of Power" for the rest of his at-bats. It took him eight years to make the team, but if Hoffpauir continues to play like he did tonight, he’ll be here to stay for a while.

I had an amazingly warm cup of hot chocolate during the third inning. It was a rather cold game, where temperatures hovered close to freezing and only got colder as the game went on. The cold, drizzle, wind and potential rain delay must have kept a majority of fans at home since Wrigley Field seemed a bit sparse for a game against a divisional rival.

An adorable kitten ran across the outfield during the fourth inning, causing a short delay and a loud chorus of "awwww" from the crowd. A Cubs staff member did a sad job of catching it, picking it up and dropping it several times before wrapping it up safely in a towel. I wonder if PETA will complain and start holding protests outside of Wrigley for mistreatment of cats.

Cubs fans had a brief Steve Bartman flashback when a fan caught a foul ball during the fourth inning. This catch kept the Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce at bat. He singled on the next pitch to drive in Joey Votto, which pulled the Reds into a 2-2 tie. Luckily, the Cubs scored three runs during the bottom of the fifth inning, keeping that fan from getting too much grief.

Finishing the game in the top of the ninth was a great feeling. Fans got up out of our seats, cheered on the Cubs for securing the win and headed home with smiles on our faces.

Until next time, good night from Wrigleyville. --- Katie Tang.

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Game Day Buzz

  • Tuesday, April 21, 2009 4:42 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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The last time I went to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game was during the summer of 2007. We were playing the San Francisco Giants, and Barry Bonds hit career home runs 752 and 753. All of us Cubs fans were happy to see two moments in history, but I think we were all happier to go home with a 9-8 win.

Tonight, I’ll finally return to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs face off against the Cincinnati Reds. Sure, there are questions surrounding tonight's game. Will Harden finally show up and pitch more than three innings? Will Bradley's suspension be a distraction tonight? But that's not what I'm thinking about. I’m thinking about the game-day buzz in Wrigleyville. I’m thinking about taking the “El” and see all the Cubs fan slowly fill up the train into the city. I’m thinking about peanuts and popcorn.

But mostly, I’m thinking about watching the Cubs up close for the first time in so long. It’s just that much better to watch sports live than at home on your couch. You get to boo with everyone when an ump inevitably makes a bad call and cheer together when he finally gets it right. You get to feel every high and low of the game with 40,000 fans just as dedicated as you. Cheering on the Cubs with everyone around makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger. There’s magic at Wrigley Field and I can’t wait to feel it tonight.

Catch you guys after the game! --- Katie Tang.

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Pitching Staff Woes

  • Monday, April 20, 2009 11:06 AM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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Not to say that the Cubs haven't been playing some excellent ball in the past few days, but I contend that the postponing of yesterday's game was by no means a terrible thing. The way opposing hitters have been cutting through our pitching staff, a postponed game is a welcome chance event.

The Cubs have allowed these numbers so far this season: 2,3,6,4,5,5,0,5,7,7,and 5 runs. Clearly, opposing hitters are not exactly overwhelmed with either our starting or bullpen pitching thus far. In the past four games we've let up 24 runs. A powerful rotation like ours, that in the preseason was receiving nods for best pitching staff in the National League has got to be stronger than it has been. Sure, we've come to expect a lot from these guys. After last season anything less than 14-3 at home for Dempster will surely be noticed and criticized by the Cubs Nation. Zambrano's 14-6 record last year doesn't truly illustrate the magnitude of his performance. He was truly a workhorse, moving extremely quickly, retiring batter after batter. This year he has yet to find last year's form. Granted it is early, but Carlos needs to find a way to keep his mistakes from happening at such inopportune times.

Overall, the boys just need to settle down and throw some more ground ball strikes. Strikeouts are nice but the bread and butter for most pitchers is the almighty grounder. With a solid defensive infield like the Cubs have, there is no reason why our rotation shouldn't be pitching for more grounders. When one of our guys goes for the strikeout, there is a considerably higher chance of a longer at-bat because he's got to try to paint the corners or miss all together to induce a wave. I'd like to see more jammed batters, more down-and-away pitches. These are the ones that cause the standard 6-3 groundout. There are 151 more games in the regular season and at this rate our pitchers are going to be gassed by mid-season. It's time to lower the pitch counts, get some more easy outs and focus on the big picture.

--- Charlie.

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A New Leadoff Hitter Prototype?

  • Sunday, April 19, 2009 4:50 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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While I was watching the Cubs take on the Cards on Friday at my place of work, the Cubs fan sitting next to me said the following:

"Alfonso Soriano is the new prototype for leadoff hitters in the league." I shook my head in disagreement. What an IDIOT, I said to myself.

Soriano then proceeded to strike out swinging, chasing pitches nowhere near the strike zone. I felt vindicated.

Of course, Soriano then went on to hit the game-winning homerun in the 8th inning later on in the game, and my co-workers felt that he was vindicated. But was he?

The idea of a leadoff hitter being an on-base guy makes sense because chances are, your #1 guy is going to get more at-bats than anyone else in the lineup. You want him to take pitches and work deep into counts, so that everyone else in the lineup can get a chance to see what the starting pitcher is working with that day.

Of course, this is only true for the first inning. The leadoff hitter's chances of being the first man to hit against a relief pitcher, or the hitter to lead off an inning after the first, are pretty much equal to that of anyone else in the lineup. So then, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? And is Soriano a good leadoff hitter?

Let's compare Soriano's numbers to those of two solid leadoff hitters around the league in Brian Roberts and Ichiro. In the last three seasons:

Soriano has averaged .285/.344/.551

Roberts: .291/.367/.431

Ichiro: .328/.376/.411

So Soriano is well below both Roberts and Ichiro in OBP, but towers over them in slugging. Soriano's power numbers destroy those of Roberts and Ichiro, and Alfonso has started off hitting five homeruns in the first two weeks of the season while slugging .646. His on-base numbers have also improved, as he has walked 3 more times than Roberts (Ichiro just entered the lineup this week and has yet to walk).

Perhaps Lou Piniella can have the best of both worlds with Soriano if he can keep that OBP high, continue to walk while at the same time knocking pitches over the Wrigley Ivy. History says that OBP will come down, and from the at-bats that I have watched of Soriano thus far, it doesn't seem like his eye has improved a whole lot. Time will tell.

Thus, I think both arguments from my co-worker and I had some credence. The Soriano that has started the season off red-hot for the Cubs COULD be the new leadoff hitter prototype: a hitter with a ton of pop who also can take pitches and has speed. That sounds like a dream come true, actually.

I just don't think Soriano can keep the OBP that high, and thus I don't think a hitter with power and speed but an inability to get on-base consistently is a viable option at the top of the lineup.

Time will tell. If my co-worker wins this argument, the Cubs will do very well in '09.- Gotty

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Two Dramatic Victories for the Cubs, What a Way to Start the Weekend!

  • Saturday, April 18, 2009 6:08 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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After losing the series opener to the Cardinals, the Cubs have rebounded with back-to-back victories. Both wins this weekend came in extra innings on walk-off homers by Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. These past two games illustrated the beauty of baseball --- a walk-off home run in extra innings rivals the excitement generated by dramatic endings in any other sport. We all have had those moments where we pretended to hit the walk off homer to win the game (or world series) for the Cubs, presumably when we were little kids-- but in reality this fantasy extends well into adulthood, we're just less likely to admit it. These last two games have been amazing to watch, but a little stressful on some fronts. Big Z did not look so great on Friday, and the Cardinals have illustrated that they are a formidable foe, and should be challenging the Cubs all season long.

On another note, Milton Bradley has been suspended for two games for his outburst on Thursday. We should wait and see how this story develops, but hopefully this does not mean that Milton will have a disciplinary bulls-eye on his back for the rest of the season. The Cubs need Milton's passion, but he is little help to the team when he is unable to play. On the other hand, getting suspended and fighting with the league may inspire the team to play with a new found sense of purpose --- sticking it to Bud Selig. Maybe this is the extra bit of drive that will fuel the Cubs long into the post season.



--- Daniel.

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After a Tough Loss Last Night Cubs Look to Rebound Against Those Dirty Redbirds

  • Friday, April 17, 2009 10:09 AM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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The Cubs did not play well yesterday. Marshall left the game after five innings, hoping the bullpen could hold on to a one run lead. Heilman, Cotts, and Guzman all gave up runs to allow the Cardinals to come away with a 7-4 victory. Pretty much the only high point of the game was Kosuke's three run shot.

Beyond the bullpen issues and Kosuke continuing his hot streak, Milton Bradley showed some fire and passion that the Cubs lacked last year. He was called out on a controversial pitch and let the umpire hear it. Milton's comments, coupled with a reputation for outbursts and emotional behavior, got him tossed by umpire Larry Vanover pretty quickly. Wrigley erupted, fired up by the confrontation. Vanover today has filed a report with the MLB that Bradley bumped him during the ejection. Folks, this could get ugly. Milton Bradley isn't exactly the darling of Major League Baseball. Here is a video of the confrontation:

Ugly or not, I'm fired up. I love Milton and his passion for the game. As long as he can keep it check, I think it will help the Cubs make the jump from a good team who will go the playoffs, to a team with the drive and desire to win it all. Hopefully, the Cubs faithful will support Milton and not vilify him-- a vilified Milton Bradley would not be good for the Cubs team chemistry.

The Cubs face the Cardinals in an hour and look for revenge. Zambrano is on the mound, and he should pitch deep into the game, leaving less of chance that our walk loving bullpen will give the game away . It is a beautiful day at Wrigley, and I have a good feeling about today's game. Keep in mind however, that my good feelings are about as reliable as Milton controlling his temper.

--- Daniel.

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Let's Cook Up Some Redbirds

  • Thursday, April 16, 2009 11:45 AM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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Today marks the beginning of a hugely important series for anybody even slightly affiliated with the Cubbies.

Ever since the days of my youth when I would walk over to the stadium with my dad, waltz right up to the box office during Wayne Messmer's special brand of the national anthem, buy standing room tickets for 8 dollars and be sitting by the 2nd inning, I've disliked everything about the Cardinals. Their fans, their colors (even though we share one), their players, and their manager. Tony La Russa, what can you really say about a man like Tony, there is no need, his actions speak for themselves. Asleep at a stop light...

Drinking antics aside, the deep-seated rivalry between the Cubs and the Cardinals extends way back to a time when the Cubs were the White Stockings and the Cardinals were the Brown Stockings. These two teams competed for the right to broadcast their games in Central Illinois, basically the midpoint between the two cities. This territorial dispute forced individuals living there to form allegiances. Back in 1885, the two teams faced each other in a pre-world series championship game that ended in a dispute without a clear winner. Ever since then the Cubbies and the Redbirds have been at odds, carving a clear divide between Chi-town and St. Louis.

Today we stoke the flames and stand back as the fire blazes hotter than ever. Sean Marshall makes his first start as the Cubbies look to rebound from a tough loss yesterday on unexpectedly bad pitching from Harden, good hitting from Marquis and terrible baserunning by the Cubs. With the kind of talent we've got on this club, and if we're careful with Pujols, there is no reason why we shouldn't roast these suckers on a spit.

--Charlie

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Why boo Marquis?

  • Wednesday, April 15, 2009 6:50 PM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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Why was our Cubbie faithful booing Jason Marquis today?

I don't get it, nor do the folks at the Bleed Cubbie Blue blog. Sure, Marquis wasn't great in a Cubs uniform, and he probably didn't pitch up to the huge contract he was offered, but as BCB mentioned, it's not his fault that he was grossly overpaid.

Marquis did not disgrace the city. He wasn't an embarrassment. He isn't on the Mitchell Report. So what's the problem? I hate to bash suffering Cubs fans, but shouldn't booing be reserved for the truly loathsome that step onto Wrigley's hallowed Field? Shouldn't a pitcher who simply couldn't live up to a contract he never deserved in the first place be spared the jeers?

Apparently not.

But it didn't matter to Marquis, who not only stymied the Cubs, but who also contributed offensively as well. How's that for payback?

The lesson learned today? Let's refrain from booing players who don't deserve it. That way they won't make us stick our foot in our collective mouths. --Gotty

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Cubs Home Opener: Live Blog

  • Monday, April 13, 2009 9:44 AM
  • Written By: Cubs Diaries

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To get into the spirit of the home opener, before we jump into our live blog, check out this headline and story from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Dead goat found hanging on Wrigley Harry Caray statue

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