April 26, 2006

Summer News, ramblings

The semester is winding down...all I have left to do class-wise is 1 homework assignment and an exam for Applied next week, and do a group presentation on a Mathematical Phyiscs paper during finals week. I'm quite ready for summer, though I very much need to make sure that I do my fair share of studying this summer so I can pass my quals. Of course there is also a pile of grading that I will need to do in the next week for the class I'm teaching...blah.

Speaking of the summer, we both seem to have plans pretty much set. I'm getting some summer money from the department as part of my 1st year grad student support, and I have scored a month's worth of support from Professor Milewski in return for some research. Hopefully I'll find something good which will be a starting point for future research in my next few years. After the researching, I will be taking a ~6 week applied math qual prep class from Ben Akers, which should prove to be super useful. After that, we move into our new place, hang with the visiting Morbecks, go to a Cubs game, and then the quals will be upon me. Hopefully we will go to a few Cubs and/or Brewers games this summer too.

Jennie has a job with the University Theatre costume shop and also doing alterations for David's Bridal. She seems excited about both jobs, and they should be fun. She'll be working a lot when the 2 jobs overlap (mid-May to mid-July), so I need to make sure I'm busy with stuff so I don't get Cabin Fever.

Other ramblings...

I still haven't gotten my teaching evaluations back yet. From last fall. Some people have gotten them back yet but it's been pretty spotty all around. I have no idea how my students rated me. I feel like I've done an okay job each semester that I've taught, doing well in different areas. Last semester I was one of 10 TAs teaching for a large lecture and I feel like I did a pretty good job interacting with my ~45 students and staying organized, though I'm not sure how directly useful my discussions were. This semester I was the sole TA for a course of ~75 students, and I saw them less often than in 222. I feel like I did a better job of presenting how to approach problems etc in discussion, but did a poorer job of keeping my students involved. Being the only TA I was far less organized and made more rookie mistake type stuff due to the fact that I didn't have any other TAs to sound off of in the class. It will be interesting to see how they all come back.

In TV-watching news...the only 'live' TV we've watched lately has been Cubs games. We just finished our 3rd run through of Buffy and it gets better somehow every time. Joss Whedon really is great. Jennie has said at several points that the show has renewed her belief in television as a source of truly quality TV shows. I think its terrible that the show never really got any critical acclaim...though not as big of a travesty as Firefly, the best show on TV ever, being cancelled after one season.

In book-reading news, I just finished At All Costs, the most recent book in the Honor Harrington series. Jennie is still slogging through the tepid Ashes of Victory (it gets better!). IM me if you want to discuss what will happen next, impressions, etc...the end of that last book was pretty wild.

Anyway, I've done pretty well at procrastinating to avoid the above homework, I should probably get back to it...

April 21, 2006

Grrr...Rob Neyer

I read Rob Neyer's article about what the Cubs should do now that Lee's gone and it left me pretty annoyed. Neyer rightly points out that we have 0 1b prospects who can fill in adequately for Lee, and recommends that the Cubs call up Michael Restovitch from the Minors to play 1b. That's certainly a reasonable suggestion, but he takes a huge shot at the Cubs when he describes their other option (which is what will likely happen).

The Cubs will probably play Walker at 1b most of the time and use one of their two remaining second basemen (Hairston and Perez - hopefully Hairston) at second. What burns me is that in the article, Neyer writes off both of them as terrible. I'm not going to be waving a flag for Perez anytime soon, but Hairston should do well as a primary 2nd baseman. He's fully healthy, unlike last year, and he had a good spring.

Neyer continues by slamming Jacque Jones, suggesting that Restovitch should have been called up anyway to replace him. This is foolish on two counts. First of all, while Jones's average has been poor, he was injured just has he was getting his stroke back, and he's been hitting the heck out of the ball and has just had bad luck. Rob Neyer is someone who will be the first to tell you that a 2-week sample of ABs (with injury included) is no indicator whatsoever for the rest of the season, and this makes no sense. Speaking of making no sense - it would make no sense at this point for the Cubs to bench a guy they just signed to a decent contract - what are the paying him for? If he's still doing this badly in late May...then things would be a little different. What he seems to think is that the Cubs should call up Felix Pie and put him in the RF spot instead of Jones, which I do not think he is ready for.

Anyway, this what I think the Cubs should do. I do agree with Neyer - they should call up Restovitch. However, he should be around as another utility guy. Mabry will be backing up Walker at first base but Restovitch should be our 4th outfielder - since Bynum is more of a pinch-runner type instead of a pinch-hitter type. He's a good pinch-runner/defensive replacement but he should not have to swing the bat. The new lineup should look something like this:

CF Pierre
2B Hairston
1B Walker
3B Ramirez
C Barrett
RF Jones
LF Murton
SS Cedeno

I guess the only silver lining in this Lee injury was that it cleared up the logjam at second base. If the Cubs can play .500 ball until the horses arrive, they will still be in good shape to make a run at the postseason.

April 20, 2006

The Hammer Falls

And so we find out today that Lee has 2 broken bones in his wrist and will be gone for 8-10 weeks. I'm not saying the Cubs have giant forks in their backs now, but it never helps anyone when the best player on your team goes down for half the season. Here's hoping that our pitching holds things together - we might turn out to be like last year's Astros (great pitching, zero offense, got hot when their best player (Berkman) came back from injury).

April 19, 2006


Just listening to the Cubs game - and both Derrek Lee AND Scott Eyre seem to have been injured on the same play. Dammit. Keeping my fingers crossed for a good injury report...

April 15, 2006

Finally updating

Things are looking cautiously optimistic for the Cubs. The team's speed really as showed up on the field, despite a sub-par start by Juan Pierre. Murton and Cedeno have been doing quite well. The pitching has been the bizarre spot for the Cubs so far however.

Zambrano, the sole healthy ace, has pitched quite poorly, issuing many walks in each of his starts. Maddux, on the other hand, seems to have reversed the declining trend that many had projected for him. Rusch has just been awful - I can't wait for the big guns to arrive. At least our bullpen has been fantastic, as advertised.

Gammons wrote a great article a few days ago about the Cubs, saying that the team had the pieces to contend as it stands right now, and any innings they get out of Prior, Wood and Miller can only be viewed as a bonus. While I may not be as optimistic as Gammons is, he does make the point that the organization's stance has changed - the team no longer relies on Prior and Wood to be the linchpin of the team anymore.

What I'm hoping happens is that if Rusch has another awful start, he gets optioned to the minors and replaced by Hill (who's pitched well thus far) or Guzman. Marshall might get swapped out sooner too - the Cubs won both games he started but his starts haven't been lights out by any stretch. Of course, this isn't to say that these guys they call up from the minors might be any better...

April 04, 2006

Opening Day

Aside from my Cubs post, other news and notes on opening day:

Nomar is injured again. I really feel bad for the guy...it seems like he can't stay healthy these days. Losing him shouldn't be that big of an impact on that team anyway - any team that plays in Chavez Ravine is not built around offense.

I was thrilled to see Houston win 1-0 over Florida. Granted, Dontrelle Willis pitched for half that game, but if the Astros could only manage one run against Florida's excuse for a bullpen that bodes well for every other team they play. Their pitching is quite good, but their bats will have to wake up when people not named Pettite or Oswalt are pitching.

I also found the Barry Bonds situation amusing. If Padres fans are booing him like crazy then things should be interesting in other stadiums - they're among the most mellow fans in the league. And the syringe thing - priceless.

Even though the White Sox lost today, I think they are a better than what I wrote in spring training. Thome brings a lot more to that team than gave him credit for, and he will have a better shot at staying healthy as a DH.

Final Season predictions

My mistake if these don't reflect my earlier previews...this is how I'm thinking now.
My 'surprise' good teams this year are Detroit, Colorado, and the Cubs, and the 'surprise' bad teams are the Twins, Jays, and Astros. The NL west is going to be a real dogfight.

AL East
Yankees - 92 wins
Red Sox - 86 wins
O's - 80 wins
Jays - 79 wins
Rays - 70 wins

AL Central
White Sox - 90 wins
Tigers - 85 wins
Indians - 83 wins
Twins - 75 wins
Royals - 68 wins

AL West
A's - 96 wins
Angels - 87 wins
Rangers - 76 wins
Mariners - 60 wins

NL East
Braves - 89 wins
Mets - 82 wins
Phils - 76 wins
Nats - 73 wins
Fish - 71 wins

NL Central
Cardinals - 91 wins
Cubs - 89 wins
Brewers - 84 wins
Astros - 77 wins
Pirates - 76 wins
Reds - 68 wins

NL West
Dodgers - 86 wins
Giants - 83 wins
Padres - 82 wins
Colorado - 80 wins
Arizona - 76 wins

A's over Angels
White Sox over Yankees
Cubs over Cardinals
Braves over Dodgers

A's over White Sox
Cubs over Braves

A's over Cubs

(disclaimer - these Cubs picks are assuming Prior, Wood, Miller stay healthy after they arrive)

Cubs Win!

I Tivoed yesterday's game and watched it after I got home - it was great, and there were lots of good omens for this Cubs team. Matt Murton (who looks like high school acquaintance Matt Noerpel) showed that he was legit, with a 3 run homer and some good defense. Pierre scored three runs, Walker drove in a few, and Derrek Lee reached base 4 out of 5 abs. One of the best things was seeing the new speed on the cubs lineup. In the 6th inning they scored their first few runs on a walk and 5 singles, three of which were infield hits legged out by Cedeno, Pierre, etc. A lot of out bench players saw action, and all of them performed well too. Hairston, Perez, and Pagan all got on base and showed some great situational hitting. One of the other good signs was that the Cubs scored 16 runs on only one homer, despite playing in a homer-friendly ballpark.

The pitching side was a little shakier. Zambrano's numbers seem worse than they are though - the ump was calling a really tight strike zone and he was pitching in homer-happy GAB. He should perform better once he gets in a groove. The better story was the bullpen though - they pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up 2 runs (in the middle relief, not late relief). They did walk too many guys, but they were able to keep that lineup quelled in a tough park, especially after the cubs built a big lead. They should get better as the season progresses as well.

Cubs Win!

April 02, 2006

NL Central - Cubbies

Finally, I squeeze my last preview in with 45 minutes to spare (when the season opens). The Cubs are the real wild-card in the division. They could win 90 games, or lose a lot. I feel lame for saying it, but the Cubs record hinges on the old adage "if Prior and Wood stay healthy..." They won't be back until late April/early May, and if the Cubs don't dig a deep hole for themselves they will put together quite a run.

This Cubs team is much more balanced (and speedy) than last year's team. Pierre is still somewhat of a question mark, but if he is even a ghost of the Juan Pierre of years past he will be a much better leadoff man than anyone we had last year, and create havoc on the basepaths. He should make Todd Walker (or whoever is batting 2nd) a much better bat too, since the pitchers will be throwing lots of fastballs in case Pierre tries to steal. Lee and Ramirez should be money in the 3 and 4 hole, and Jones should definitely improve on his performance from last year. Barrett is one of the best catchers in the NL, and I think Murton is the real deal. I'm not sure how Cedeno will do - he had a great winter but an awful spring, and Dusty loves to play washed-up veterans over struggling rookies. I still think Cedeno will get more at-bats than Perez though. The bench is looking quite good, with Hairston, Pagan, Mabry, and Bynum able to play 4 or more positions, and they should be quality pinch-hitters as well.

Once the pitching gets healthy, the Cubs will have a rotation consisting of 3 aces (Zambrano, Prior, Wood), 1 potential ace (Miller), and 1 300-game winner who still has something left in the tank (Maddux). The bullpen is also going to be great, and should add an additional 10 wins to our total from last year alone.

NL Central - Cardinals

For some reason, everyone expects the Cards to just roll over everyone else in the division. Let's look at what they have though.

On offense, Pujols is the best offensive player in the league, no argument. If Edmonds and Rolen stay healthy they should also form a great core for this offense. However, Edmonds is getting older and is always banged up, and Rolen still isn't 100% from his injury last year. Eckstein is a quality sparkplug-type leadoff guy and great defensively. Yadier Molina has a little pop but only really has value as a defensive catcher. But 2b, LF and to a lesser extent RF are holes in this lineup. Encarnacion is a above average outfielder...but that's all you can ever say about him. In left, we have the Taguchi/Bigbie/Rodriguez quasi-platoon. Which is a combination of veteran utility guy, average player, and emerging above-average player. Worst of all, Spivey had a terrible spring offensively and defensively and lost the 2b job to Aaron Miles, who could only post a 661 OPS in Coors field last year.

Pitching wise, the Cardinals have a quality rotation and bullpen. Carpenter is great, and Mulder is great when he isn't fighting nagging injuries. Marquis is their 3rd starter, and he feels like a guy who is prime to have a bad year (his 1.33 WHIP last year is a bad sign). Suppan is a quality back-end of the rotation kind of guy, and Ponson...well he should fall apart sometime in May leaving the door open for the emerging Reyes. Their bullpen is once again quite good, despite the loss of Taveras and King (who were two of their best last year). The only question mark is Isringhausen, who has not been 100% this spring. If he falters, Looper will be their closer and things will be more interesting at the back of the pen.

This team is still quite good, but from a preseason standpoint it's more vulnerable than it was the past few seasons.

NL Central - Brewers

The Brew Crew is seemingly everyone's pick to have a breakout season this year. Their pitching has been quietly great under the tenure of Mike Maddux and their young positional prospects are beginning to emerge. The success of the team depends on how well these youngsters play. On offense, they already have a good table-setter in Clark, 2 RBI guys in Lee and Jenkins, but they still have light-hitting Koskie and Miller at 3b and catcher. J. J. Hardy had an awful, awful first half of the season, but turned it around and put up decent numbers in the second half. Weeks has crazy amounts of speed but has a hard time getting on base. He still walks a fair amount of the time, so he seemingly has a good eye but he also is prone to the strikeout. If he improves his BA he should be pretty good offensively. Defensively he's been quite a liability however. Fielder likelwise needs to show the power that he had in the minor leagues to make him a quality 5th batter.

Pitching-wise, this team quietly has one of the 5 best rotations in the NL, despite not having a single ace. Mike Maddux really knows how to work these guys. Their bullpen is decent. Turnbow and Wise are quite good but the rest of the bullpen is a question mark.

NL Central - Astros

This team suffers from residual greatness. They are a team that relies heavily on starting pitching, and hence unless Clemens comes back, they are a much worse team than they were last year. In fact, they're pretty similar to the Cubs. Their only top-tier bats are their corner infielders (Ensberg and Berkman), they have a rising star and a mediocre veteran in the corner OF spots (Lane and Wilson), a light-hitting defensive shortstop (Everett). The Cubs do have an edge at 1b, 3b, CF (Taveras is also a decent leadoff man, but Pierre is top-shelf if he's on his game), C (Ausmus is only there for his defense) and 2b (Biggio is ancient and the cubs have 2 quality guys). Still, they should probably score as many runs as the Cubs.

On the pitching side, they have 2 top-notch guys in Oswalt and Pettite. I think Backe is incredibly overrated with his 1.46 WHIP and 4.50+ ERA. He's only even mentioned because he had that great stretch as a rookie in the postseason two years ago. Wandy Rodriguez and Buchholz are both fringe 5th starters - so you can see why this team desperately needs Clemens to get back. Again like the Cubs, their bullpen is quite good (though they have a better closer).

I think this team will finish behind the Cubs - both teams will probably reload on pitching in May, assuming Clemens comes back, though the Cubs will recieve a bigger impact by getting 3 aces.

April 01, 2006

NL Central - Pirates

Early in the offseason, this team was a popular pick to improve by a big margin. Things have died down since then, especially since Wells went down with an injury. Their pitching staff will be really good in 2 years or so, they just need to grow into it. They have 3 potential aces (or near-aces) in Perez, Duke, and Snell - they just need to develop some more. Santos was a vastly underrated pitcher in Milwaukee and should be a good 5th starter for them. Their bullpen should be decent as well. On offense, they picked up some decent veterans in Casey, Randa, and the erratic Burnitz, though it foolishly left them with their best offensive player, Craig Wilson without a position to play. They also have some emergin youngsters in Bay and Castillo.

If their pitching develops well this team will flirt with .500, if not they will be fighting the Reds for the division basement.

NL Central - Reds

This team has the rare combination of being terrible and dangerous. Many people forget that they played .500 ball for the second half of last year, and hence weren't the pushovers they were in the first half of the season. As always, their problem is their terrible, terrible pitching combined with their incredibly hitter-friendly ballpark. Their bats are pretty good (their ballpark helps). Their OF is one of the best in baseball - with Kearns (if he ever gets his crap together), Griffey (if he manages to stay healthy for the 2nd year in a row), and Dunn (no caveat here, he's good). Lopez and Valentin are pretty good, and Encarnacion is a promising player. But their newest acquisitions are a downgrade from last year. Womack has nothing left in the tank, and Hatteberg is running out of gas as well. If the Reds finally play Freel at 2b or LF (moving Dunn to First) and have him bat leadoff, they will be a much better team. He's an Eckstein-like sparkplug, except better.

I would also argue that their pitching hasn't gotten any better - in fact it may be even worse. Here's their opening day rotation - Harang, Arroyo, Williams, Claussen, Milton. Of those five, only Harang is going to be decent, though Claussen may improve this season. Milton is the worst possible pitcher for their ballpark, as we saw last year when he coughed up a major-league record 40 gopherballs. Their new guys, Arroyo and Williams, are no slouches with the gopherball themselves. Williams gave up 20 of them last season in only 120 innings - most of which were at pitcher-friendly PNC park too. Arroyo gave up 22 homers last year, though he did pitch a full 200 innings. He's a decent pitcher, but if you subtract the GAB from his projected stats he will probably be pretty sub-par, which is not what you want from your #2 starter.

Cubs Moves

Yesterday the Cubs made another trade and a few lineup related announcements, which I'm kind of on the fence about. First, Baker delcared Todd Walker to be our 'primary' second baseman for the season. It was a tough decision to make - all three of the candidates had great springs. I still feel Hairston was the best choice, now that he is healthy, due to his speed and defense, but Walker pretty much plays only second while Hairston plays 2nd and all of the OF positions. The Cubs also moved John Koronka, who recently had been converted as a reliever and was doing a pretty good job (I thought he would make our 25-man roster). He was moved to Texas in a similarly questionable move for them - they needed a 5th starter but Koronka has been practicing as a reliever for the past 6 months. In return, the Cubs received super-utility guy Freddie Bynum, who is speedy and can play 2b, SS, and any OF position. They picked him up to be another player off the bench. But my question is this - was it worth trading Koronka for what will amount to a month of this guy? When Prior and Wood come back it will squeeze 2 people off the roster - most likely Bynum and whoever is performing most poorly in the BP (Williams or Wuertz I'm betting), though Cedeno is also a possibility due to his recent poor performance and how well Neifi has been doing. Someone else will have to be squeezed out once Wade Miller is back too. I'll have my predictied 'regular' roster for the Cubs mapped out in a later post.

Here's the opening day lineup/roster
CF Pierre
2B Walker
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
RF Jones
C Barrett
LF Murton
SS Cedeno
B Blanco (C)
B Mabry (1B/3B/LF/RF)
B Perez (2B/SS/3B)
B Hairston {2B/LF/RF/CF)
B Pagan {LF/RF/CF)
B Bynum {2B/SS/LF/CF/RF)

1 Zambrano (R)
2 Rusch (L)
3 Maddux (R)
4 Marshall (L)
5 Williams (Long Reliever until needed in mid-april) (R)
C Dempster (R)
S Howry (R)
S Eyre (L)
BP Ohman (L)
BP Williamson (R)
BP Wuertz (R)