Congrats to Jordan Zimmermann

Gotta let my Badger State side come out for a post and offer a big congratulations to new Washington National Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann’s not only a Wisconsin kid, but also a fellow Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference alum- he from UW-Stevens Point and I from rival UW-Whitewater.

Zimmermann made his MLB debut Monday night, gave up just two runs in six innnings and picked up a win against Atlanta. Despite the weather, it was nice that it happened on a slow Monday after the Yankees got rained out. That way, ESPN actually got to talk about it!

This little burst of WIAC pride will tide me over as I wait and see if Whitewater grad Greg Reinhard ends up in a Cubs uniform. He’s been solid in relief work for Triple-A Iowa, so I can still hope!

Fallout Shelter

Oh… so apparently we are supposed to treat Milton Bradley’s ejection yesterday like a big deal. I sure didn’t at the time. It was a bad call, Bradley was a pinch hitter and leaving the game anyway, and the whole thing was pretty tame as far as ejection situations go. Two seconds of jawing, then storming back into the dugout. No heated face-to-face yelling, no bats thrown on the field, heck- no Lou! I shook it off, and focused on Soriano’s at bat.

But no, from the media response, and the whole “may have lightly brushed the umpire” silliness, it is now the enormous temper tantrum that proves that Bradley still has anger issues and doesn’t deserve to wear a uniform. Honestly, if this was really a case of Milton being Milton, something gets thrown out onto the field, somebody gets physically restrained, and he’s getting suspended for a week or two. His response to that bum call was tepid by comparison. I’m glad Derrek Lee defended him after the game.

Derrek gripes about bad strike calls all the time. But thanks to the great reputation he’s developed, he could do the exact same thing and get off scot free.

Opening Day Intruder

Due to some cosmic twist of fate, a friend and I ended up scoring tickets to the Miller Park home opener against the Cubs. Unlike my last Cubs/Brewers game last July, this time I got the full experience rather than being among the Metavante Club elite. To avoid the hassle of getting in and out of the stadium, we parked at the overflow lot early enough and boarded a shuttle bus that used nifty side roads to get us to the front gates in no time. My boss also invited us to his tailgater early on- the tailgating at Brewer home openers is an event in itself. And as they were nosebleed, terrace level seats, we got all the ruffians and loudmouths and more of a Darwinist atmosphere. The responses to my combination Cubs hat/Packers fleece was remarkable. In other words, more fun.

I almost dreaded going because I’m uncomfortable with the Wrigley North concept when it comes to opening day. It’s a day for the home team, and it almost feels wrong to infringe. Indeed, while there were plenty of Cub fans in attendance, the proportion wasn’t nearly as even as it usually is. This was clearly a Milwaukee crowd, so much that I actually hit the concession stand during the stretch: the “root root root for the (SCREAM TEAM HERE)” part was bound to be deafeningly pro-Brewer. My guess is Saturday and Sunday will be more proportionate.

Yes, the result was disappointing, but despite the missed opportunities on both sides (it easily could have been closer to a 7-6 game), it was entertaining. It’s hard to get too depressed when you see all those Brewer fans cheering and dancing like they had clinched a playoff birth. Honestly, all those unorthodox pitching changes (Marshall and Viscaino in the 8th? Really?) suggested that Lou was taking advantage of the weak Brewer hitting today to test out some different bullpen permutations. And there’s no sense pressing the panic button over a 2-2 start where both losses were walkoffs. After a blown save like that, it’s hard to get behind a closer like Kevin Gregg, especially since his style is such a departure from Wood. But Wood blew his share of saves too. I’ll shrug this one off and give Gregg a few more opportunities before calling for his head, but he’s not on a very endearing pace right now.

The Bob and Cory Show

Does anyone else get the funny feeling that today’s Brewer game is going to be more the norm than the exception? They knock out last year’s Cy Young winner after three innings and yet their own pitchers can’t keep the Giants lineup in check. The Giants lineup. Forget football-level scoring, their trip to Coors Field may look like a Bucks/Nuggets game.

Anyway, yes, I’m listening to the Brewers opener in San Francisco. After committing the sin of hosting a night game on opening day (and at the awkward 6:00 ESPN-friendly time to boot), the Astros have no need to give us any afternoon games this week. So I need something to listen to, and the Giants were more tradition-friendly… even if a day late.

Everyone loves Bob Uecker, one of the best in the business and clearly a model for the also-excellent Pat Hughes. But after getting used to Pat & Ron, I’m missing the banter. Even if Bob gets 95% of the airtime, it would be nice for him to have somebody to talk to. There’s a familiar face on the Brewers radio team, with Cory Provus spelling Uecker during certain innings. I liked Cory last year- his style was a great successor to Andy Masur and apparently the Brewers agreed. It was amusing to watch Milwaukee fans explode upon hearing that a Cubs guy was moving to Brewer games, but his work remains good- combining the proper mix of professionalism and disappointment whenever the Giants score. It would just be nice for them to get a second mic up in that booth so maybe Bob and Cory could perhaps talk to each other. 

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Drought

In spite of everything, there’s something a little more serene about this year’s Cubs campaign. Last year’s focus on the big centennial was such a huge black cloud that it shadowed everything good about the 2008 team. The team felt it, the fans felt it: the ominous hush during game one of the playoffs negated any home field advantage. The collapse seemed imminent because of that number, the 2007 trip, and that whole lefty batter thing that got most of the blame in hindsight. The centennial and all its festivities made us forget just how good the 2008 team was.

It was probably a better team than the one we have now, that’s for sure. DeRosa’s gone, Wood’s gone, our key players are another year older and just because we have a new crop of middle relievers doesn’t mean they’re any better than Wuertz and company. At the same time, I feel more relaxed this year. That 100-shaped storm cloud has given way to a fluffy cumulus that spells 101 when you look at it a certain way. The number 100 conjures memorials and anniversaries; the number 101 conjures dalmatians. No rainbows yet, but it’s an improvement.

Credit the Arizona Cardinals and their Super Bowl run for this mindset. The historical ineptitude of the Cardinals is no secret, but their championship drought had never gotten much press until this year’s success. Before last season, you could quiz any football fan and watch the shrugs as they try to come up with their last title. 1947- and that was pre-Super Bowl so in order to save face, we can say that compares to our 1945. Not a huge difference there.

Point is, nobody really thought about Arizona’s drought because they had no reason to imagine the Cardinals playing for a title. Now that the big 100 is out of the way, that means that the Cubs want people talking about 1908. It means a championship isn’t inconceivable. It means we’re close. There are only two ways to erase 1908, and one of them is return to a point where the team’s no longer contending. Where combining “Cubs” and “championship” into a sentence is just silly. The other way is… well, you know. It’s April. Let’s not get into that quite yet.

So now that the century mark has come and gone, let’s go back to worrying about baseball again. Cheering our team, celebrating the victories, agonizing over the losses, and just being normal fans instead of martyrs or masochists. Our team may not be as good as last year’s, but it seems that most of the NL Central has taken a step back, and the ones that haven’t are either still pretty bad or coached by Dusty Baker. I’d rather be a Cubs fan than a Pirates fan right now. Yes, stuff will go wrong, a rival will step up and St. Louis will figure out a way to contend like they always do. But let’s bring them on, see what happens, and hope when it gets closer to October the numbers “1908” and “101” come up in conversation more often. When they do it means we’re close, but right now it’s April and that’s as far away as it gets.  

Jason’s Silent Farewell to Shea

It’s bound to be a quiet week for the Cubs. The division’s clinched, starters will be rested, and whoever does play gets to audition the Mets and Brewers for postseason contention. There’s been talk of the Cubs potentially choosing lineups in order to beat the team they don’t want to see, but that’s baloney. Either one’s fine by us and not even the best record in the NL entitles us to automatic wins against the team we don’t want winning the wild card. And, for that matter, telling our callups to roll over against the team we want in. The way the Mets and Brewers have been playing, we may rest our starters all week and still take five of seven.

Meanwhile, while flipping channels during the Packer game, I noticed that Yankee Stadium hosted its last game. You think we would have been told about something like that? There was a grand ceremony, a eulogy from Jeter, a victory lap from a Yankee team that needed to feel victorious at something… a good farewell to the old palace. Shea Stadium is quietly fading into the shadows as well. What does it get? Jason Marquis.

I’m sure the Mets have something in mind to part ways with the ol’ bitten-in birthday cake. A reprieve into October would be a suggestion. But Marquis, native New Yorker, wanted to say goodbye his way- with a memorable performance. The four runs in seven innings may be a pedestrian pitching effort, but with friends and family in the audience, hitting a grand slam and driving in five runs is a great day for anybody in the lineup. For a pitcher? Something special. Shea never had the same adoration as Yankee Stadium, and its closing will be nowhere near as melancholy. Marquis, meanwhile, will always be the fifth man in this Cubs’ rotation and probably won’t start a game in the postseason. Monday night, one underappreciated New Yorker quietly saluted the other.

The No Hitter (And the HOU-CHI in MIL Stuff You Missed)

It’s a day later and I still can’t get over the fact that I was in the stands for a Major League no hitter, especially when I started the weekend expecting a quiet Sunday of watching football at home. I already said my piece on the strange and questionable circumstances that brought the two teams to Milwaukee, but I had expected kind of a droll game. Everybody had two days off, the Astros are dealing with the hurricane’s aftermath and so it would be unlikely that anybody would have their A game.

Except Big Z. And here I went in mostly looking forward to seeing if all that talk about his BP sessions are true (they are, by the way). Instead, we are treated to the first Cubs no hitter in three decades, 23,000+ Cub fans getting Wrigley North all to ourselves (a few Brewers and Astros fans were scattered in there, but it was definitely our night) and a reason for all of them to cheer the roof off. Except for one or two ESPN live look-ins and a slow-pitch softball game I scored where I gave the right fielder a tough error on a line drive, I’ve never witnessed a no hitter. Without my camera, and with an online printout instead of a genuine ticket stub, the best I could do to honor the occasion was call my grandma in Niles and let her listen in on the postgame celebration.

As dominating a story as Zambano’s magnum opus is, there were many interesting sidebars to the “neutral site” game. Unlike the Indians-Angels series last year, where Milwaukee fans adopted the Indians and treated them like the home team, this year the Miller Park crew were totally neutral. Why’s that interesting?

  • Bernie was AWOL from his perch and there was no sausage race. I may be a Cubs fan, but as a Wisconsinite I felt deprived.
  • It’s a beautiful moment at the start of every baseball game when the home team rushes out onto the field. Unless the crowd is squarely behind the “visitors.” Then all you get is a loud chorus of boos. Awkward.
  • Despite being the home team, the Astros used the visitor’s dugout and bullpen, due to familiarity and not having to worry about messing with Prince Fielder’s stuff. The Indians did the same thing last year. That’s not strange. What was strange was that both teams wore their road uniforms. Some have whispered that it was a silent protest by the Astros on how at home they really felt, but methinks it was because they didn’t want to bring their home whites to Milwaukee, then have to swing by Houston en route to their next series in Florida just to pick up their dry cleaning.
  • The stadium fan cam did its best to spotlight fans of both teams.
    When the crowd is 95 percent Cub fans, putting the few Astros
    supporters that were there on the replay board is not such a
    good idea. Poor folks.
  • Instead of sponsored games and giveaways, a lot of the between-inning entertainment were trivia questions for both the Astros and Cubs. Coincidentally, the first question of the night asked which Astros pitcher threw a no hitter in 1986 to clinch the NL West.
  • Miller Park puts the lyrics to Take Me Out To The Ballgame on the big board during the stretch. With the Brewers out of town and the Astros fans outnumbered, the lyrics for this series read “Root, root, root for the (your team here).”
  • Speaking of the stretch, more Cub fans need to learn to sing the Beer Barrel Polka. Without the Brewer faithful in the house, we weren’t rolling out the barrel very excitedly.
  • I heard “Go, Cubs, Go” about six times on the way to the parking lot, twice with musical accompaniment. It even made the wait to get out bearable!

Minute Maid North

After two days of waiting and watching with baited breath in hopes that the city of Houston isn’t submerged in water or blown to Oz, the Cubs and Astros will play two of their three games in Milwaukee, with the third coming at the end of the season if the playoff picture isn’t completely in focus. This is absolutely not fair to the Astros.

Yes, I’m a Cubs fan and yes, this is a blog, but let’s stop playing favorites and look at this objectively- there were places in Texas that were available to host the Astros. The Rangers are out of town, Round Rock was offering up their facility (one of the best in Triple-A, I might add), and Minute Maid seemed to be functioning… even if in the middle of a disaster area.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, is Wrigley North. This is not a repeat of the “kind-hearted Wisconsinites welcoming two neutral teams” scenario we had last year when they played surrogate host to the Indians. Those tickets were $10 a pop and Milwaukee fans were happy to oblige in treating fellow Midwesterners Cleveland as the home team over Los Angeles. Miller Park is charging full marquee game fare tomorrow and Monday, knowing full well that the stands will be populated by Cub fans. If even the same Brewer-rootin’, Cub-hatin’ folk made it in, the Astros are division rivals too… and hot on Milwaukee’s heels in the wild card.

So, in conclusion, I do not support the decision to move games from Houston to Milwaukee. I bought tickets for Sunday night’s game anyway. Go Cubs!

In The Red

Why does it have to be Cincinnati?

Look, teams go through slumps. The Phillies are playoff contenders and, ultimately, it was a series split with them. The Astros series downright sucked, but that’s what you get for putting Howry into a tie game in the 5th (I’m still sore about that… the 5th? After calling up Guzman, Lieber and Wuertz, our new long man is Howry?). In the end, we don’t lose any ground because the Phillies, Cardinals and Brewers haven’t been faring a whole lot better.

But now… Cincinnati… oy. This is the absolute last team I want the Cubs playing now. Bring on St. Louis, bring on Arizona, bring on New York… okay, scratch that last one. But Cincinnati is the worst.

The Reds seem to be a team we always sustain our fortunes against. If we’re doing well, they are just another team to fall in the wake of our destruction. If we’re struggling, it’s always a grind of a series involving (in no particular order)- a close, low-scoring loss, a comfortable win by 3-4 runs, and getting totally clobbered. Contrast this to playing Pittsburgh, where a trip to PNC is always a great way to break out of a slump, but we’ll almost certainly lose the first game (and, in rare cases, the series) if we play the Pirates following a big game/series win (like the Brewers sweep this year or the Nationals sweep last year).

I’m tempted to just take a miss on this series entirely, concede that the Cubs will drop two of three in Cincy and rejoin the team as they throttle St. Louis.

Now We’re Cooking

It was a fairly uneventful August for the Cubs, which is, of course, a good thing. Cubs are cruising along, winning every series, no major injuries, and really, not a whole lot of marquee matchups. Cubs expanding their lead, the magic number to clinch a playoff birth is below 20, and all is well.

Of course, there wasn’t much for me to talk about. The fact that we’re all getting excited about a home series with Philadelphia tells you everything. This series with the Phillies is kind of a dress rehearsal for October, and thankfully we’re stepping up to the occasion. Ramirez and Soriano deliver game-winning homers, first two games go to the good guys. Good start!