November 15, 2008

More speculation

Not 5 minutes after I made that post, I saw this article, that suggests that the Cubs might be interested in Randy Johnson. I'm kind of iffy on this - he's 45 and has those nagging back problems. He would be a good replacement for Marquis, but then we would have to move Marquis (who is NOT going to the bullpen). Marquis could probably be flipped to another team, now that he only has a year left on his contract (and does have the innings-eater rep). Still, he's owed 8 million or so, so that's probably going to be a sunk cost one way or another (we might have to trade for salary). If we could make him part of a RF trade that was more of a dollar-for-dollar type situation that would be nice, but I can't think of anyone that would be a good partner there off the top of my head.

Bye bye Kerry Wood

The Cubs traded Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg yesterday, and announced that Kerry wood will not be returning to the team. To many Cubs fans, this was a double slap in the face. I was never a *huge* Wood fan, but I did like him a lot. I don't really follow the line of thinking that "Wood is the face of this franchise" (If it is anyone, it has been Zambrano for the last few years). Wood definitely has some partial 'face of the francise'-ness working for him, but it's more of the bittersweet memories of what might have been, and all of the years of "If Prior and Wood are healthy..." following the 2003 season, which is not great to dwell upon. I felt like that page was finally turned when we finally let Prior go. Wood has been great for how he stuck with the franchise (and felt like he owed something to it) and managed to stay classy with the media (unlike Prior, who may have had a legitimate beef with the Cubs but did a pretty good job of burning his bridges with the organization well before he was finally let go).

At first, I wasn't that surprised when Hendry said that Wood wasn't coming back - I assumed that we had offered him a short-term contract and that Wood had turned it down, since some team is probably going to back the money truck up to him this offseason. However, that does not seem to be the case, and it sucks. From Wood:

... he did say he would've been amenable to staying and "would have done anything" to stay a Cub. The Cubs told him to go get a three- or four-year deal for more money, but Wood said he would've agreed to a one-year deal to stay.

This just a day after we heard Hendry insinuating that the number of years on the contract was what was keeping them apart, and that Wood 'deserved' a four year deal from some other team.

Look - Carlos Marmol is REALLY freaking good, and if Wood was around, it's likely that Marmol would not be the closer. Not that that's a bad thing in my eyes, but I wonder if the front office is either blinded by the line of thought that

-Marmol is our best pitcher, so he should be the closer, and there would be no role for Wood

or (hopefully)

-We need the money to go after Dempster/other starters or a new LH right fielder.

This is not great logic though - even if we resigned Woody, we needed another quality bullpen arm or two to shore up what was kind of rocky for us last season. Which brings us to Kevin Gregg.

The Marlins pulled off a heist with this trade - Gregg is not good. If he's our 7th inning guy next year, that would be okay. But, as someone said on BCB or GROTA (can't remember), Gregg is basically Bob Howry redux. He has closing experience, but he's not really a elite relief pitcher that you can rely on ala Marmol, Wood, K-Rod, those kinds of guys. If he is in the mix with Gaudin and (hopefully) Wuertz as the second tier bullpen guys on the team, then it's sort of an okay trade. But if he becomes the new closer, this was a freaking terrible idea. I think the Cubs are smart enough to put Marmol in the 9th (even if that's not the best way to deploy him) and are just keeping him around for insurance, but I would like more of a sure thing to be our #2 in the bullpen. For most of last season it was just Wood and Marmol as our top guys, and that was it (and even then there was a 2 month stretch where one of the two of them was ineffective, and the rest of our bullpen strained to carry the load). Of course, everyone wants a top-to-bottom awesome bullpen, but that's a luxury few teams have/can afford (there's a reason why most of these guys are pitching middle relief). Plus, Ceda projects to be a good reliever down the road, and we traded one year of Gregg (a 7th inning guy, tops IMHO) for 6 years of Ceda, who will probably be a 7th inning guy but has upside to be an elite setup man/closer down the road.

Anyway, here's where we are right now. I don't think the Peavy trade is going to happen for us OR Atlanta, and re-signing Dempster seems more likely if we're not throwing money at Wood. I don't think (though this is probably wishful thinking) that Hendry is going to go for a FA right fielder - he's probably going to find some way to spin Pie and some other pieces (Marshall, Cedeno, etc) for someone else's RF that might come on the market (Al mentioned Dye the other day on BCB, which was the first decent idea that I've seen come out from over there in several weeks). I just don't think that Ibanez or Abreu will be worth it (too old), though I might be OK with a Milton Bradlet signing. An Adam Dunn signing would be FREAKING AWESOME, but I don't think it's very likely (whether or not the org wanted to try to play him in RF or try to move Soriano to RF). I think a trade is more probable, with DeRosa as the fallback option in RF. I'm becoming more skeptical of a Furcal deal now too, given the market there will probably be for him (though I still think the Cubs should try and get him). This is the way I think things will shake out now

LF Soriano
SS Riot
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
C Soto
RF DeRosa
2B Fontenot
CF Dome/Johnson

B Blanco (back on a new deal, though K Hill would be cheaper)
B Dome/Johnson
B Cedeno
B Hoffpauir
B Pie

1 Zambrano
2 Harden
3 Dempster
4 Lilly
5 Marquis

CL Marmol
B Gregg
B Samardzija
B Gaudin
B Wuertz
B Cotts
LR Marshall

I would not be surprised if Pie gets spun off for a reliever or something in spring training (some sort of quality lefty?) if we can't work out a RF trade partner.

November 02, 2008

The offseason, part 1 (of however many I feel like)

Now that the playoffs are finally over (congrats to the Phillies by the way), the Hot Stove is heating up. Lots of trades/signings/etc have been bandied about, but let's get a few things straight.

  1. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano are going to be Cubs in 2009. They all have no trade clauses, and Lee (the most tradeable), loves being a Cub, and I do not see any reason for him to go to, say, the SF Giants (a Lee for Cain swap seems to be one of the most popular wishful thinking scenarios running around). I wouldn't mind seeing some lineup shifts (especially if my scenario below comes to pass), mainly that I would like to see Lee batting 2nd or 5th/6th, and Soriano batting 3rd or 5th/6th.

  2. Felix Pie has no future within this organization, which sucks, because I think that he will be a productive player, if the team would only give him a chance. But a combination of Lou's lack of faith in him and Fukudome's contract status (and handedness) are going to squeeze him out of the lineup. He is out of options, so the Cubs either have to trade him, or keep him around as a 5th outfielder, which I don't see happening.

  3. We will not be able to sign both Wood and Dempster. Ths Cubs will likely stand relatively pat for next year, but these are the two big names leaving the team. I don't think the Cubs have enough trading chips to fill some of the holes they have (namely, a Real SS or RF), so that will likely be the only big FA pickup this year, and I think they'll only have money to keep one of them. Dempster will be the linchpin of this I think - if another team offers him 5 years I think he'll take it (the Cubs will likely only go to 3, maybe 4). If Demp goes I think the Cubs resign Wood. Both players have expressed a desire to remain in Chicago, but hometown discounts are only as good as the difference in the contracts that other teams are offering, and there is a LOT of money out there. My gut tells me that we do manage to keep one of them though.

Now that that's out of the way, here's my (very simple) plan for the offseason.

  1. Sign Rafael Furcal

That's pretty much it, plus or minus the minor moves that teams usually make (bullpen stuff, usually). This solves several problems

  1. It moves Soriano out of the leadoff spot. I really think Soriano should be the 3-hitter on this team - he has too much power to be hitting leadoff, and his speed is still great in front of our other bats (Ramirez, Soto).

  2. It moves Theriot out of the SS position. Riot is a scrappy guy, but he is a 2B, not a SS. He just doesn't have the arm/range to be a full-time shortstop. He's still OK at second base, and I think the luster has finally worn off of Ronny Cedeno for me. Plus, if we get someone to play RF in place of DeRosa, we would have some trade bait in Riot, Fontenot, and Cedeno. Riot is overrated by pretty much everyone, so he would be great to include in a deal.

  3. We finally get a real leadoff man. I guess see #1 above. Furcal was the one that got away 3 years ago, and I think the team does still want him. The only red flag is some of his injury issues, which are troubling....

What I think/hope happens is that Dempster leaves, Wood stays, and we sign Furcal and a FA bullpen arm. Then the team would shake out like this.

SS Furcal
1B Lee
LF Soriano
3B Ramirez
C Soto
RF DeRosa
CF/2B Dome/Fontenot
2B/CF Johnson/Riot

B K. Hill
B Hoffpauir
B Cedeno
B Dome/Johnson
B Riot/Fontenot
(B: Pie?)

1 Zambrano
2 Lilly
3 Harden
4 Marquis
5 Marshall

CL Wood
S Marmol
S Samardzija
BP Wuertz
BP Cotts
BP Gaudin
BP Guzman

Others in Minors
Rich Hill
Randy Wells
Kevin Hart
Jose Ascanio

Clearly, either Cedeno or Pie (or Hoffpauir) is going to be gone - there just isn't enough space. I'm not a big Hoffpauir believer, but I think the team won't want to break camp without a pinch hitter with some power (LBR notwithstanding).

Bonus speculation
Since, in this scenario, Pie or Cedeno needs to be traded, we have some small chips to go after someone. The biggest speculation right now is that we might go after Peavy. Cedeno, Pie, and Marshall could be enough to get it done, but I don't really like offering up more than that many. Peavy is quite good though, and I'm not really sure I share the concerns of some others about his injury history. Depending on the package, I think it's a risk worth taking. We could pick up another dime-a-dozen backup SS with some glove to backup Furcal/Riot if this goes through. Maybe even including Riot in the trade might push this over the top.

I would love to trade for Matt Cain or Brian Roberts, but I don't think we have enough to get it done for those guys. The only other free agent name that intrigues me is Derek Lowe, who has had a pretty interesting career. I'm not sure I would want him unless we knew that Riot would not be playing SS though - it would nullify some of the value we would get from all of his ground balls.

October 08, 2008

A little perspective: the 2008 Cubs vs the 2003 Cubs

This postseason sucked hard. But, was it worse than 2003? Let's compare the two seasons.

In 2003, we did not have a great team. Sosa was our only all-star quality bat (though our pickup of Aramis Ramirez was HUGE). The team was built around pitching, specifically Zambrano, Wood, and a splendidly awesome season by Mark Prior. Borowski somehow put a good year together at the end of what was a middling bullpen, at best. The team caught fire in September sneaking in with a 88-74 record, and managed to tough it out against the Braves. We all know what happened in the NLCS though.

On the other hand, the 2008 Cubs were clearly the best team in the National League. We scored the most runs in the NL and gave up the second fewest, played great defense, and arguably had 4 aces (when Lilly finally got it together) for the stretch run. Zambrano finally pitched a no-hitter, we saw Soto take over the black hole that had been the catcher position, and the Cubs rolled through the NL. It wasn't just the crappy teams either - with the exception of a series again Cincinatti we played teams with winning records all through September, compiling a record of 11-10 against them (some of which occured after we clinched, and were resting players). Our final record was 97-64, and we came into the playoffs ready to go. But we all know what happened - the team laid an egg, plain and simple.

So which was worse?

As raw as the wounds from this year's postseason have hurt, I still think 2003 was worse. We were 5 freaking outs away from the series! I find having defeat snatched from the jaws of victory much much worse than what happened this year. I was really bummed after the first game, but hopeful, but after the blowout in game 2, I had made my peace with the fact that it just wasn't our year (again). It was depressing, but it wasn't a stomach punch the way that 2003 Game 6 was. We also had almost 2 entire days to reconcile our feelings before the Dodgers finished off the Cubs, due to the off day and the very late start time of game 3.

As depressing as it was, it happened much more slowly, and I have a lot of good memories of this season - Z's no hitter, Soto's walkoff HR against the Brewers in September, being at the game (my first one at Wrigley in over 2 years) when the Cubs clinched their playoff berth, the 9-run comeback vs the Rockies...I could go on and on. This was a special team and a special season, and their poor postseason play is not going to take those memories away from me. So, unlike Al, I will not throw out the NL Central championship t-shirt that I bought at the stadium - it reminds me of the game I went to and the season as a whole, not how it ended.

The core of this team (the best in the NL) will be back next year, and have a better than decent shot of being in the exact same situation they were in this year (in the playoffs, a good team). If we keep winning titles, then, gorram it, we gotta win sometime. Just look at the Braves of the 1990s - they only won one World Series, but you gotta give yourself some chances. The best team in a short series does not win 100% of the time...just gotta hope the ball bounces our way next time (unlike those bad hops in game 2...)

Until then, GO CUBS

Cubs Win!

October 05, 2008

And that

as they say, is that.

Good luck to the Tampa Bay Rays, who I thought were the best team in the playoffs even before the Cubs were eliminated. I guess I'm rooting for the Phillies now in the NL.

Cubs postmortem content to come - I'm at least going to write a short season recap - identify players who should be recognized. I'm thinking I might also do a player-by-player season recap before looking to next year.

Now that baseball season is over, maybe blogging can take over as my only hobby...

October 02, 2008

Note to self

After wading into the sea of negativity and self-hating Cubs 'fandom' after last night's Cubs loss, I need to stay away from Cubs fansites. I will restrict myself only to Al's posts on BCB and anything by Colin on Goat Riders.

Let's go Z! I hope we get good Carlos tonight...

Department of Obviousness

Teaching first semester calculus has been pretty interesting so far. It seems that the biggest stumbling block is not the new concepts that are being introduced here, but applying all the stuff that people have already learned (i.e., algebra). Most people seem to understand the setup of problems, but can't remember how to apply the tools they know to actually solve them.

September 17, 2008

Looking ahead

Since the Cubs are now at 99.9977% to reach the playoffs, I feel safe in talking about the PLAYOFFS now. First, the NL playoff teams, as they stand today

Mets (WC)

It would be extremely shocking if the Cubs and Dodgers lose their divisions at this point. The only real contenders left for playoff spots are the Brewers, Phillies, Mets, and Astros. Sadly, I see the Astros continuiug their post-hurricane slump, so the only real contenders left are the Brewers, Phils, and Mets. here are the possiblilities

1. Brewers win WC, Phllies win NL east
2. Brewers in WC, Mets win NL east
3. Mets win WC, Phillies win NL east
4. Phillies win WC, Mets win NL east

In situations 1 and 2, the Cubs play the Dodgers, in 3 and 4, the Cubs play the WC leaders. If we look purely at Nate Silver's Secret Sauce , we can get some insight on what would be best for the Cubs.

Note: The secret sauce is a pretty simple formula - Nate determined that the 3 variables that best suggest success in the playoffs are Team Defense, Starting Pitching, and having a Shutdown Closer. Simply rank each team in these categories, add up the 3 rankings, and the lowest score has the best Secret Sauce rating. Here's how things break down for these teams

Cubs: Fielding - 1, Pitching - 3, Closer - 20, total - 24
Phils: Fielding - 14, Pitching - 20, Closer - 1, total - 35
Brew Crew: Fielding - 10, Pitching - 17, Closer - 9, total - 36
Mets: Fielding - 8, Pitching - 14, Closer - 22, Total - 44
Dodgers: Fielding - 17, Pitching - 11, Closer - 16, total - 44

Thus, clearly the Cubs should be rooting for the Phillies to win the division, as we would get the Dodgers or Mets in the first round (even better would be the mets, since that calculation was made using Wagner's numbers, and their BP is even more in shambles now). A 1-game playoff for the Brewers and Mets (as mentioned in an earlier post) would be especially choice, as it would weaken both of them heading in to the playoffs. My personal feeling though is that I would rather play the Dodgers - Manny is their only star offensive player, and none of their starters scare me. The Mets at least have Santana and some legitimate hitters (Wright, Beltran, Reyes, Delgado) that we would have to worry about, flammabile bullpen notwithstanding. They would throw Santana at us twice in a 5 game series, which would be tough to beat...though we have beaten the Brewers on both of Sabathia's starts...(power lefties...)

On a personal note, I'm hoping that the Cubs split their remaning games with the Brewers (losing tonight would be fine since it's Sheets v Marquis, our most average pitcher). That way, we don't clinch on Thursday, and could clinch on Saturday instead vs. the Cardinals. I only say this because I will BE at that game (thanks to my awesome in-laws). That would be freaking awesome. What would be doubly awesome would be if Holy Shit Carlos Zambrano gets pushed back a day, due to his high pitch count in the no-hitter and need to cruise into the playoffs, and starts that game, because we love us some Carlos. Lilly is great too though...just glad that we won't get Marquis. I have a tendency to get 5th/spot starters at Cubs games that I go to for some reason so it will be nice to break the trend.

I'm curious how our playoff rotation will shake down. We probably won't have to go to a 3 man rotation, because who do you leave out of Zambrano, Harden, Dempster, Lilly? I could *maybe* see bouncing Lilly, depending on how well a team hits lefties. He should be great against the Dodgers though, if he can pitch in their stadium. My feeling is that we will see Z, Demp, Harden, Lilly, but I have no idea how it will break down. What a rotation!

Anyway, Go Cubs Go! (and Go Phillies Go!)

Quote of the day

From ShysterBall:

At this point I am sort of hoping that Philly pulls away and that New York has to battle it out with Milwaukee for the wild card in a one-game playoff. Scientists would have to invent new equipment in order to calculate the levels of stress and anxiety such a game would would inspire among its participants.

Note: Insert relevant Physics joke about matter at high pressure, etc etc

September 14, 2008

Everything's coming up Milhouse! (Cubs edition)

What a day of baseball for the Chicago Cubs.

1, Hurricane Ike moves this series vs. the Astros to Wrigley Field North.

2. The Phillies sweep a doubleheader vs the Brewers

3. Carlos Zambrano, coming off a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 2 weeks, throws a no-hitter against the Astros.

I would say there are no words, but I just wrote some.

As an aside - the no-hitter is great, but I feel AWFUL for the Astros. Their money-grabbing owner combined with MLB's incompetence trapped them in Houston to ride out the storm, when some actual planning could have moved this game to a more neutral site for them. They leave today, while the city is still in shambles, fly to what amounts to a road game for them, and get no-hit.

By the way - I say Go Brewers AND Go Phillies. If the Phils win the NL east and the Brewers take the WC then the Cubs play the NL west winner (i.e., the Dodgers). Not that the Dodgers aren't a bad team, but I would rather play them than a possible Phillies/Mets WC.

August 09, 2008

Farmers' Market Pasta

This isn't as tasty as Jennie's Community Pasta (made from our CSA ingredients), but is certainly inspired by it. I cruised by the farmers' market here in Los Alamos and bought some squash and fresh pasta, and made this guy:


This contains

  • Lemon Fennel Pasta (v tasty!)

  • Yellow Squash

  • Cippolini onions

  • Lots of garlic

  • Johnsonville italian sausage

  • Pearl-sized Fresh Mozzarella

  • Feta cheese

  • Buitoni Marinara sauce

  • Also some great sourdough bread

Were I making this in real kitchen with actual kitchen supplies and greater access to ingredients, things would be a little better. I had to compromise and get the Johnsonville sausage, since it was either that (it had corn syrup in it) or get the house brand (which had high fructose corn syrup in it). Similarly, if I were back home I would make a real tomato sauce, though I trust the refrigerated sauce a lot more than the bottled stuff you just buy off a shelf. I'd probably throw some creminis in there too, since my obsession with them was rising before I ventured off on this cooking exile. In later cookings I chopped the squash into much bigger chunks and cooked it longer, and it made a HUGE difference (I was kind of picking around it the first time).

All in all this is very tasty, though this (first) one didn't turn out as well as my subsequent makings of this. I found out the other day that, much like lasagna, this tastes even better the next day. I think the key thing is the noodles - fresh pasta keeps much better as leftovers than the dry stuff for some reason.

August 03, 2008

Cubs roundup

A few things:

1. With yesterday's win, the Cubs have now equaled the win total of the 2006 team. Furthermore, we passed the 2006 team's walk total back on July 23. Let us never speak of that team again

2. Great article in the New York Times today about Mark Cuban, and his potential to win the Cubs bidding. I'm a little less of a Cuban partisan than I used to be - I think he would be FANTASTIC for the franchise and would actually invest in it, unlike the cheapskate Tribune Company. I think we've only seen the tip of the iceberg in how the Cubs could be marketed nationally (see Boston, New York) and I would be shocked if Cuban didn't recognize this. His track record in Dallas is good with players too - he turned Dallas into a place that players wanted to play by, well, pampering his players.

That said, if Cuban becomes the owner I think we will see a much bigger focus on renovating Wrigley Field, which could easily be a problem. He clearly will want to fix the stuff that has needed to be fixed for years - terrible bathrooms (urinal troughs in this day and age?!), crummy concessions, the tiny clubhouses, and the lack of modern sports facilities. Luckily, even Cubes would be unlikely to move the Cubs away from Wrigley, but given his casual fan focus in Dallas we might see some changes that many Cubs fans would not be happy with - namely, a Jumbotron. Hopefully, Cuban will recognize that Wrigley does not need a Jumbotron or similar gimmicks to sell out Wrigley and keep fan interest in the team...but if the Cubs start losing (and losing attendance) we might start seeing the slow slide to video fandom.

3. Great article in the Hardball Times yesterday about the Cubbies. It breaks down how the Cubs have done so well this year - the main reason being the the Cubs are incredibly balanced. You can't write off the team as an all-pitch no-hit team (like the Angels) - the Cubs are well above average on offense, defense, starting pitching and relief pitching. Like the article suggests, I'm hoping the Cubs have a big August, in which they play mostly home games against non-contenders, and rest up their players down the stretch in September so we're fresh for the playoffs

August 02, 2008

Neon Genesis Evangelion, take 3

While here at Los Alamos, I've been playing through assorted old console games on my laptop (yay emulators!) Recently, I've been working my way through Xenogears, which has held up to be as good as I remembered...and now I'm itching to plow through Xenosaga again, which is pretty up and down. Anyway, this review is not about video games, but about an anime series. All the giant robots, psychological stuff, and veiled (and not so veiled) religious references put me in the mood to watch some Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I have carried from computer to computer since I downloaded it way back in my undergraduate days.

I originally watched the series back in high school, and enjoyed them. I love stories with all sorts of conspiracies, wheels-within-wheels situations, and all the mythological/religous/existential references always serve to make things seem even more epic. One of the reasons I think I enjoyed it so much was that I (mostly) identified with the main character. I don't have the daddy/abandonment issues that Shinji has, but I definitely vibed with his general antisocial-ness and low-level fear of human contact. Watching it ten years later though, Shinji came off as way too emo for me...and since Shinji is the protagonist for the show, the (several) existential Shinji episodes weren't really doing it for me.

As far as other characters go, I'm still not sure how I feel about Asuka. The first time I watched it I HATED her - thought she was just real bitchy and mean in general. Watching them through again (mainly in Japanese w/ subtitles rather than dubbed), I realized that a lot of that stemmed from Asuka's english voice actress, whose voice was very nasal and had a strong undertone of contempt in pretty much every word. Don't get me wrong - Asuka is very bombastic and opinionated, and has a very aggressive personality...but I think the Japanese voice actress did a much better job with her general tone. Asuka can still be pretty selfish and mean-spirited (her most common saying is "What, are you stupid?", after all), but I felt much more sympathetic to her this time around. Also her last battle in End of Evangelion was one of the best action sequences in the entire series, only topped by the feral and terrifying battle between Zeruel and Unit 1.

The battles in the series were pretty amazing - I love the way that the Evas are rendered and, well, just MOVE in general. They manage to capture an almost feral, animal aura around them (clearly, this was intentional) which I think works really well in the giant robot fighting setting. The robots themselves aren't running around with shit tons of guns/missiles/etc (see, Transformers) - they mainly fight hand to hand and though they do use guns you feel much more like they are tools for their task rather than an integral part of the Evas. Whenever we see 'conventional' attacks by the military it always cracks me up, because you just see giant walls of missiles bullets etc raining on the enemy with no effect, which would feel more surprising if it weren't for the super-inaccurate world of robot cartoons that I've seen.

For some reason, the mystery in the show seemed a lot less epic than I remembered...I feel like I missed one of the background episodes somehow - especially in regards to all the stuff that happened in the past, Rei's history, and the ramp up to the Eva project (though I did watch the episode that covered this!). I finally did watch the full version of End of Evangelion and I gave the first half a big thumbs up...but found the ending no more satisfying than the anticlimactic ending to the TV show. I'm probably not going to watch it again anytime soon...though I'll probably feel the itch again the next time I roll through Xenogears (now that I've finished that, I'm all in the mood for Xenosaga again...)

Series of Unfortunate Events

I'm finally getting around to writing book reviews for all the stuff that I've read over the past few months. Farthest back in my queue is A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (note: SPOLIER ALERT for anyone who thinks they might read these)

Quick overview: The series consists of 13 books that chronicle the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, whose parents have just died in a mysterious fire. They have a large inheritance that is being held for them until they come of age, and the book chronciles their (mis)adventures as they try to elude the villainous Count Olaf, who is trying to seize their money.

The books are written really well - my main reaction reading this is that I would have LOVED it when I was a kid. They're written for people who love reading - lots of obvious (and not so obvious) literary references, black humor, complicated and made-up words, and a wheels-within-wheels type mystery. The books start out with a standard formula: the kids move to a new foster home with a distant relative, Count Olaf shows up in disguise and hatches some scheme, the kids foil it, and they are forced to move on somewhere else. It gets grating after awhile, but luckily these books are quick reads, and the series switches gears after the 6th book, when they start learning more about the events that their parents were mixed up in, and after the 7th book, when the Baudelaires are on the run after being framed for murder.

In the end, it very much is not a children's book. The line between good and evil blurs slowly over the couse of the book, as we get some insight into the pasts of many of the villains and the good guys aren't revealed to be all that good at times. At several points towards the end the main characters wonder whether they've become villains themselves. The children are exposed to the adult world, which has very few sympathetic characters, even among those who were helpful to the children (not to mention the fact that the most sympathetic characters tend to end up dead).

In the end, they are eventually freed from Count Olaf's interference, and have seen a lot of their preconceptions about the world and their parents torn down. They've seen the world, and it's just pretty nasty and petty in general and are questioning their own actions. Whether I view the ending as good or bad depends on how I'm feeling...if I'm in a good mood and feeling optimistic, then I think that they will be able to use the lessons they've learned from their mistakes (and the many mistakes etc of the people they encountered) to raise and educate Beatrice and be positive forces for change in the deeply flawed world around them. If I'm feeling grouchy, then I feel that the Baudelaires are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the previous generation. Most of the mystery surrounding Count Olaf, VFD, and the events of the past are left unsolved, which left me feeling deeply unsatisfied and almost cheated in a way. But, maybe the fact that the children seem to be letting go of all of this baggage from the past is a sign that history will not repeat itself, and the optimist in me is the winner.

July 18, 2008

Cubs mid-season review

I meant to do this a few days ago, given the baseball-starvation period that was the All-Star break, but here's my recap of the first half and a look forward.

Record: 57-38 (Tied with LAA for best in baseball)

Runs Scored: 507
Runs Allowed: 401
Pythagorean Projection: 57.9 - 37.1
Difference: -0.9
3rd Order Runs Scored: 475
3rd Order Runs Allowed:406
Pythagorean Projection: 54.5 - 40.5
Difference: 2.5

Odds of making playoffs (3rd order wins): 92%
Odds of making playoffs (PECOTA): 94%

Offense: The Cubs can score some runs. They've scored the most runs in the National League - even more than Philly's homer-happy lineup in their homer-happy park, and are second only to Texas in all of MLB. For all the Soriano haters out there, we've really missed him for the past month. All that playing time that went to the likes of Reed Johnson (should only be used vs Lefties) and EPatt/Murton/DeRosa was not nearly the production we see out of that slot...and the defense made Soriano's occasional lapses look less bad. DeRosa's bat plays well as a 2B, but as a LF he's adequate at best offensively and defensively. However, we didn't lose too much with Fontenot filling in for DeRosa (though I still wish that we saw more Cedeno). Cwyer's post over on GROTA has changed my mind about Fontenot - he's given us a decent bat (with pop) and great defense at 2B when he has started. Combine this with Cedeno reverting to 2006 Cedeno (instead of the flashes of Future Cedeno that we saw at the beginning of the season) and Fontenot has been much more valuable than I would have cared to admit even a week ago. My biggest knock against him is still his lack of positional flexibility...If he could play SS we could spin Cedeno for something decent. Speaking of SS, I remain in the anti-Riot camp. He's Jeter-esque in his overrated ness, but also Jeter-esque in that he's so overrated by a segment of fans that he's underrated. Riot's main deficiency is his defense - much like Jeter he has terrible range. Offensively, like Jeter he's been posting a great OBP (for this year at least)...however UNLIKE Jeter he has no power whatsoever. If he could hit a few doubles he would be much more valuable. Dome, however, is the player I am most worried about in the lineup. He just looks exhausted, and needs to make some adjustments. It looks like the league has figured him out, at least for now. We don't really have anyone adequate to spell him right now either, due to our lack of OF depth, and the fact that Reed Johnson should only play vs lefties. (Of course, he could spell him vs lefties, but he might need more time). I hope he turns it least Lou has been putting him in the second spot more often of late. Hopefully that will continue when Soriano gets back. Also, for the record, I am eating all sorts of crow over Edmonds. Way to go, Hendry!

On the pitching side, I'm feeling pretty good. Even with the addition of Harden, I think that Z+Harden isn't as good as Sheets-Sabathia. However, Dempter+Lilly is light years better than any combination of Parra/Bush/McClung/Suppan, which easily gives the Cubs an overall advantage rotation wise. I'm still a little worried about the bullpen...Kerry's hurting right now with this weird blister problem, but I think he'll be okay. As before, the key member of our bullpen is Carlos "White Castle" Marmol. I think he's definitely showing signs of overwork - for more evidence see this hardball times article. We had hoped that a little rest over the ASB would unfatigue his arm, but he ended up pitching in the game (though by how late he went in, clearly Lou did NOT want him to pitch. Dempster pitched on 1 day's rest long before Marmol ever came in). I didn't see the game (radio only here), but the buzz was that he had his White Castle slider back, although he didn't seem like he was 100% yet. As for the rest of the bullpen...they've all been remarkably pedestrian. I have a strong feeling that Gaudin fills Howry's old role as setup man, especially if Marmol continues to struggle. Lou's biggest problem by far this year, aside from overusing Marmol, is not getting enough out of his relievers. We have lots of guys who could be classified as 'long relievers' - Lieber, Marshall, Wuertz, Gaudin. But rarely have they pitched more than one inning - especially when they need to soak up innings when we have big leads and don't need to burn the rest of the pen.

I think the overall team slump we had in June can be attributed to a bunch of injuries happening at the same time (Z, Johnson, Soriano, Edmonds was banged up, etc). We're only a .500 team since Soriano's injury, and desperately need him back. It's going to be a fun race down the stretch with the Brewers and the somehow still in it Cards. Can't wait to be at Wrigley on Sep 20th! (second to last regular season home game, vs the Cards!)

July 08, 2008

Everything's coming up Milhouse!

Somehow this Simpsons quote always pops in my head when I'm in an especially good mood. Here's why:

  1. There's a good chance that I will have two (2!) scholarly papers in the works before I leave Los Alamos next month

  2. I gave a talk today on my research and it went really well - I got many compliments from the people in the know. I think I've done as much (if not more) on my thesis work in the past 3 weeks here than I had for the previous 3 months

  3. Even though my stay here isn't halfway over yet, I feel like I'm on the home stretch now. I can't wait to see our new apartment, our dogs, and especially my awesome wife!

  4. I had a blast hanging out with old friends Erica and Tim up in Colorado over the holiday weekend. We did 4th of July stuff and visited Rocky Mountain National park, which was pretty awesome. I added some pictures to my flickr page

  5. I got some good beer up in Fort Collins - Hooray for New Belgium brewery! I bought a sampler 6-pack and found that while Fat Tire is their most famous beer, I actually like their other options better. So far I think I like their Trippel ale the best

  6. Last, but by far not least, the Cubs traded for RICH HARDEN! ZOMG! We also picked up Chad Gaudin for bullpen help / Harden insurance / Cajun cooking with Riot and Fonty. It cost us Gallagher (a valuable asset, but I don't think his ceiling is higher than a #3), E-Pat and Murton (spare parts, as far as the Cubs are concerned at least), and a lottery ticket catcher prospectzz in Josh Donaldson (who is blocked by Soto anyway). Big props to Jim Hendry.

    That said, there are some worries, the biggest of which is Harden's health. He's put it together so far this year but you never know what will happen. Apparently his velocity had dropped over his last few starts, and maybe he's going through a dead-arm period....just so long as he doesn't actually get injured we should be cool. This deal is the very definition of a high-risk/high-reward trade. If we have good Harden in September/ I'm also worried because Beane is such a smooth operator - maybe he knows Harden's arm will fall off. The Cubs did apparently look at his medical records though, and Billy Beane is not invincible. It's still hard to imagine getting the best of him in a trade though. If E-Pat and Murton play they are improvements on several of the A's anemic offensive players

I've been meaning to put up some book reviews for the past several that things have died down a smidge at LANL I might post some this week...but we'll see what happens

June 05, 2008

Summer Reading

Here's the list of stuff that I'm going to bring with me to LANL - I hope to read all of em before the summer is out


  • The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky

  • Liar's Poker - Lewis

  • The Master and Margarita - Bulgakov

  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - Berendt


  • Lords of the Realm - Helyar

  • It Ain't Over 'Till It's Over - Baseball Prospectus

  • Men at Work - Will

  • Cubs Nation - Wojciechowski

Science, philosophy, what have you

  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics

  • The Meaning of It All - Feynman

May 23, 2008

Greg Maddux

Al's post over on Bleed Cubbie Blue made the case for the Cubs adding Greg Maddux. Despite my post the other day about the Cubs pitching depth, I think this is the right move (for the right price). If we can move Murton for him, that would be great. If we could move Jason Marquis, that would be especially great. The Padres aren't going anywhere this year...they have needs at pretty much every position. Murton has no role at all on our current team, with Soriano and Dome blocking him for the next few years, and Marquis...ugh. Really though, from a statistical standpoint Maddux isn't too different from Marquis. Why not score mad points with the fans and bring him back? Making a run to the playoffs (and hopefully the WS) with Maddux would be a great story to close out his career. I think Murton + Marquis for Maddux (and maybe a throw-in) would be a totally fine trade...the Pads would get several cost-controlled years of a young outfielder and an innings eater (albeit with a big salary), and we'll be in the exact same situation pitching wise that we were before. We won't be stunting the growth of our young starters either - I don't think Gallagher is ready yet and I'm still not a big believer in Marshall. Hopefully Hill turns himself around, and we have a staff that looks like this down the stretch.



That's a freaking good pitching staff - Howry usually gets better in the second half, and I'm a big believer in Wuertz. Ascanio has the arm to stick in the bullpen as well.

May 20, 2008

Summer Goals

Hopefully this will be a reminder of what I plan to do this summer

  • Do lots of math.

    I need to do my specialty exam at the end of the summer, so it would help if I actually had something to talk about.

  • Do more math.

    I may or may not be spending time at Los Alamos this summer, which will result in me working on some new stuff. Hopefully I'll find out what that is today.

  • Learn some physics.

    My advisor does a lot more than numerical analysis - a lot of his research is in mathematical physics. This is a problem for me since I haven't taken a real physics course since high school. Next semester I'm diving right into possibly more than one graduate physics course, so I need some background. Learning more physics should also expand my horizons, research-wise, and give me a better idea what the other grad students are talking about in our working seminar

  • Learn some Chinese.

    I realized during my final year of undergraduate work that I loooove learning new languages. Sadly, as is usually the case, my first year of grad school wiped out any extracurricular activities that I might have been interested in. I hope to work through the 'learn chinese' books that I bought by the end of the summer at least, and hopefully be able to carry on a basic conversation with some of the other grad students.

  • Ride my bike

    I hate bike riding, because I have terrible balance and the seats always make my ass hurt. Seriously - what is the deal with uncomfortable bike seats? Anyway. we're moving farther away from campus next year and it would be the perfect distance to bike. I would have to take bike lanes on city streets (rather than ride in the street) but I'm still pretty uncomfortable with that. I need to build up some bike confidence this summer if I'm ever going to do this. Luckily I'll still have the option of taking the bus, but any option that does not require using gas is fine by me.

  • Go to the gym

    On a similar vein, I'd love to (finally) build some upper body strength. Even when I played rugby (which, sadly, was probably when I was the most in shape in my life) I was a pretty wimpy guy. I've always had mad leg strength but I can barely lift anything. I'd love it if I had the strength to swing for the fences one of these days when we play softball...

May 19, 2008

Cubs quarter season review

Record: 27-17

Runs Scored: 255
Runs Allowed: 184
Pythagorean Projection: 28.7 - 15.3
Difference: -1.7
3rd Order Runs Scored: 231
3rd Order Runs Allowed:182
Pythagorean Projection: 27 - 17
Difference: 0

Odds of making playoffs (3rd order wins): 77%
Odds of making playoffs (PECOTA): 78%

Things are looking pretty good for the Cubs right now, despite the fact that their pitching situation still has not settled down. They are clearly the class of the NL central, and the offense is performing like it should have last year. Remember, the Cubs won the division last year despite the fact that none of our offensive superstars had true 'star' seasons. This year, Derrek Lee has come back to form (though chances are we'll never see his 2005 numbers again). Soriano remains his streaky self, demonstrating as recently as last week how hot he can get and as recently as last month how cold he can get. Dome has been a great addition to the lineup...though his numbers clearly show that he should be batting second, not fifth. It's hard to top a .416 OBP!! Ramirez has bumped his OBP up as well, though his power numbers remain down so far. Continuing this trend, DeRosa has improved his OBP by another 25 points and done a fantastic job of knocking out fearsome middle of the lineup in. Riot has quieted (temporarily) his doubters by his offensive output, though his defense still leaves much to be desired.

But, the two real stories, offense-wise, are in center field and at catcher. Soto has been the MVP of the team this year - offering top shelf offense at a premium position. Soto is clearly the best catcher in the NL right now - he has 80 points of OPS on Brian McCann, the next highest NL catcher, and is 8th overall in the NL in OPS. His defense behind the plate has been decent as well. He represents a huge upgrade over the black hole that was the catcher position last year, and is one of the big reasons why the Cubs are in first place. Speaking of black holes, however, we still do have a problem in CF. Pie has been mismanaged quite badly, from an organizational standpoint. Somewhere along the line he was labeled a AAAA player, and the only way to disprove that is to, well, play in the major leagues. I thought Reed Johnson was a good signing at the time, and still do feel that way. However, it is clear that he is not an everyday player right now. But, he hits lefties well and can play CF, which is exactly what we needed as a platoon partner for Pie. What was not needed was playing him against righties, whom he does not hit as well. Having an OBP (.340) higher than your slugging (.326) is never a good thing, unless it is considerably higher than league average (see Fukodome, whose SLG is higher, but not by a ton). It doesn't help Johnson either that his OBP is largely driven by a large number of HPBs, which is quite flukish. There are two ideal situations as to how this situation plays out:

1. (More Likely) Pie picks up whatever Lou was teaching him with his swing, tears up AAA yet again, and gets called up due to the fact that Edmonds has been quickly released, as it is obvious he has nothing left.

2. (Very Much Less Likely) Edmonds plays like a shadow of his former self...rather than the shambling corpse of his former self that he probably is, and we play this same game with Pie next year. There are rumors floating around that a calf injury that Edmonds suffered in ST was what was holding him back...but color me skeptical. Of course, Edmonds will probably get hurt again, and hopefully Pie can step in and win the job he earned back in spring training for good.

It just doesn't make sense to me why we don't play him. With the offense we have, his struggling bat doesn't really hurt the team that much, and his Gold Glove quality work in CF certainly has some value (no other outfielder on our team is even close to his class). Edmonds was released by the Padres, who are hurting badly for any warm body that can play center, and it's not like they are the Pittsburgh Pirates (Depodesta works for them!).

As far as pitching goes, we have a lot of depth...but it's shallow depth (if that makes sense). Z and Lilly are clearly solid pitchers (though Z still isn't really an 'ace'). Everyone else though...meh. The good thing is that the rest of the cubs starting staff *does* belong in the major leagues...but don't really have high ceilings. Dempster is at best a 4th starter - someone who can give you innings but will get knocked around from time to time. Suddenly he's developed into a ground ball pitcher, and managed to keep the ball in the park, which has dropped his ERA considerably but a .220 BABIP is impossible to maintain. I'm happy to see Gallagher in the rotation, as he does have some upside...but again, I don't project him to move into the front of a rotation anytime soon. He's certainly better than Jason Marquis, who is definitely a fifth starter. Lou seems to recognize this, and seems to have begun skipping his starts when the Cubs have off days. He'd probably have been released for one of the following candidates were it not for his untradeable contract. Lieber, his 4 hr performance notwithstanding, has shown that he too has something left in the tank, but he clearly won't be a front of the rotation guy anytime soon. In the minors we currently have Rich Hill, who has #3 starter stuff and will fit back in nicely once he finds the strike zone again. Hopefully there's nothing wrong with this back. Marshall has had success before but I think he really does qualify as a AAAA pitcher. He can't pitch for too long without being overexposed.

So, not that I've bashed most of the Cubs pitching staff, what's the silver lining here? We still have major league quality pitchers ready to step in whenever a spot opens up in the rotation for whatever reason (injury, weather, etc). Most teams end up throwing unprepared guys or people that don't really belong in the big leauges in the back end of their rotation, which lowers the standards for how people view the role. Sure, Sean Marshall could start for many, many teams. But if you're rounding out the back of the rotation for the Orioles or Marlins, you have to take the term 'major league starter' with a large grain of salt.

As for the bullpen, I'm happy with how it's performed. Howry hasn't looked good, but everyone else has been okay. I'm concerned that Marmol's arm might fall off before the season ends, but he used to start...and even if he does break down I think a small DL stint would just give him some rest before coming back to blow everyone away in the fall. Wood is looking better now that he's tinkered with that slider of his; it's looking very tight - has a lot of bite again. It's been great to see Wuertz pitching well of late too - he's put up zeros in multiple-inning outings in each of the last two games - finally finding the plate with his good slider.

Here's hoping everything keeps rolling along - and that Marmol gets a well-deserved spot in the all-star game!

May 18, 2008

Big fella

Here is Zeus, the big Cocker that we adopted last weekend


Zeus and Jennie

Zeus and Kira

Zeus and Kira

Zeus and Kira

Zeus and Kira

He has a handsome face - Jennie and I both thought his face looked kind of like a golden retriever's. He's already lost a lot of weight since he was rescued but still has a ways to go. He was 62 pounds and had a hard time moving when he was first picked up. He's down to 52 or so now, and probably needs to lose another 15 pounds or so. I don't think it will be too hard...he loooooves going on walks. Kira has been kind of taken aback by his enthusiasm on walks He can be a real freight train, just chugging along at the end of the leash. He's gotten to the point where he can jump up to lean on things (like chairs, your legs, etc) but can't jump himself off the ground. I think he'll be a real jumper, and will give Kira a run for her money for the title of highest energy dog (at least on walks).

We do think he might be partially deaf, as he doesn't really respond to his name at all. Or maybe he just ignores his's something we'll have to work on. I'm pretty sure he does hear me when I whistle.

May 05, 2008

Applied for adoption over the weekend

After Bear was adopted last weekend we were pretty bummed, but still looking to get another Cocker. We loved the look of both Angel and Zeus, but decided we'd wait until the next time that the 'available for adoption' page updated before filling out the application. Sure enough, at the end of the week a new (old) dog appeared - it was Gracie, who had been in rescue for a while and was adopted a few months ago. Sadly, through no fault of her own, she was returned to rescue because her new owner developed some serious medical conditions.

Here are the candidates

Honorable Mention: Angel


We fell in love with her story - she was a stray that was picked up by a shelter in Illinois. Her hair was so badly matted that when they went to groom her, skin came off with the hair. All through this she was giving kisses to the groomer, so happy to be taken care of by somebody again. She is an older dog, and Cocker rescue decided that she would be a bad match for us since she really needs to have someone home pretty much all day, since she needs to be taken out fairly often.

1b. Zeus


He just looks like a big old clown. We have no issues with adopting seniors, and he looks like a real nice fellow. Our only concerns right now are when we go home - Rhett is pretty defensive-agressive and while he is much bigger than Kira, he and Zeus would probably be more likely to have issues, both by being male and the fact that Zeus is much bigger than Rhett. He also doesn't get along with cats so there might be trouble with him and Zoe if we visit my parents' house.

1a. Gracie


She seems like such a sweetheart, and is as pretty as Kira. We like her a little better since she's female (see comments about Zeus above) and is known to get along with dogs and small children. Her previous bio suggested that she was a little rascal (i.e. liked to get into the garbage, toilet paper, that kind of stuff) but that's no big deal, so long as she isn't the type to chew on cords or shoes. She's also quite the escape artist apparently - she could give Kira a run for her money (she was able to jump baby gates with ease when we first brought her back to Waterford). I think she's our frontrunner right now, but we would be happy with either of them.

Beef Stew of Deliciousness +1

Last weekend we picked up some green beans and pearl onions at the farmers market, but never really got around to cooking them. I was thinking of doing a balsamic onion + chicken recipe that I've made before with good success, but wasn't really in the mood for it. Jennie suggested that we get some stew meat and make a beef stew...good suggestion. We went to our new favorite grocery store (the Jenifer St. Market - which has a FANTASTIC meat selection) and picked up some stew meat and a few other things that we had run out of, and I got cooking.

I based this on Tyler Florence's Ultimate Beef Stew Recipe, with a few changes. First off, I only used 1 1/2 lbs of meat (since I was adding a ton of extra veggies). The recipe called for a ton of flour, but it seemed like a waste as it was only going to lightly coat the meat. I only used 1/2 c as opposed to the 2 cups in the recipe. I used some of our dwindling supply of magic Steak Salt to season it, and I think the meat especially turned out very well. I used the rest of our bottle (3/4 or so) of cheap red wine for the pre-marinade. I know the rule of thumb is that you shouldn't cook with wine you wouldn't drink...but I don't drink wine anyway (especially red wine), and it turned out okay. Some of the people commenting on the recipe thought that the wine made the recipe very bitter...they just probably used the wrong wine. I also left out the grated orange peel, which many people did not like in the recipe either. On top of the potatoes and carrots called for in the recipe, I threw in our bunch of french beans (very tasty), the last of my creminis (my current culinary obsession - thanks Keith!), and half of our big bag of pearl onions. I love the way pearl onions taste, but I'll be damned if they aren't a pain in the ass to prepare their skins are pretty resilient. I forgot to add the peas, but all in all this was quite the tasty dish. Definitely a make again.

The main issue with it (also mentioned in the comments for the recipe) is that it doesn't thicken the way that the recipe suggests (or really, at all). Maybe if the full 2c of flour worked their way into the pot it might, but if it's just being used to coat the meat there's no way you can get all of it in (I had tons extra and I only used 1/2 c). I ended up adding some slurry as it went on to thicken it up a little, but it was still a little soupy when it was ready to be served.

April 27, 2008

Weekend Minutiae

Not a lot going on, just some updates on what's going on here at Chez J+J:

  • We decided that we're going to get another dog. Soon. Here is a picture of the guy we have our eye on:

    Bear the Cocker Spaniel

    His name is Bear right now (that's what the Rescue Org named him - he was a stray). We think we might name him Dmitri (Dima for short) to go along with Kira and the Russian-inspired names.

    As of right now there are 2 major roadblocks. First, we need to find out if our landlord will let us have a second dog. The second roadblock is my own idiocy. We were supposed to meet the dog we had our eye on this weekend at an event held by Shorewood Cocker Rescue. I thought it was on Sunday from noon to 3, but we discovered at around 3:30 PM on Saturday that it was in fact on SATURDAY from noon to 3 (plus, it was in Lake Geneva, which is 2 hours away, so it's not like we could have zipped over there and caught them).

    As I wrote this, I discovered a third roadblock - he got adopted this weekend. Dammit. So that's that. It's kind of cast a pallor over the weekend :(

  • We saw Kids in the Hall: Live as We'll Ever Be at the Barrymore on Friday night with our friend Brian. It was hilarious, as expected. Jennie and I both admitted to each other a day or so before the show that Kevin was now our favorite member of the troupe (Dave held the top spot for quite some time). Lots of great sketches - the best of which was one where Dave was confiding his worry that his imaginary girlfriend might be cheating on him to Kevin, only to discover that Kevin had been imagining that she was having an affair with him. Shenanigans ensued.

  • We went to the Farmers Market on a windy Satudray morning. Most of the vendors who actually put their awnings up spent a majority of the time holding on to the frames to prevent the wind from knocking them over. We got a pretty good haul - more delicious tomatoes and italian sausage (like last week), some good onions, spinach, cheese, pearl onions, eggs, applesauce, and some spring garlic. I added the spring garlic to my potato soup recipe last night, with some good results. It gave it a little more zest, even tastier than usual. My only disappointment was actually with a purchase from last week. I was excited for the market to be starting again, because one of hte stands makes amazing bacon. This time, when I went to get some they had options - hickory smoked or nitrite-free. I sprung for the nitrite-free bacon (it's what I've been buying at Woodman's and was pretty good). Big mistake - I didn't realize that it was uncured bacon. It tasted like fatty rubber. Super gross.

  • I'm almost done with Series of Unfortunate Events - I'll write my review when I finish it. I just finished The Grim Grotto - the eleventh book of the series. It was pretty eventful. Jennie said that many loose ends were not tied up at the conclusion of the series, so I'm feeling suspense over what will be explained.

  • I hit the bookstore today and picked up the beginnings of some stuff for my goal of learning some Chinese. I got the grammar book mentioned before and a big Chinese-English dictionary, along with How to Learn Any Language (on sale!). I've read the first 20 pages or so of the Language book and it's pretty fun to read so far. His views on language are a little different than mine - he stresses conversation over grammar, which I agree with objectively...but I feel that the structure of grammar is one of the main things that attracts me to language. That could just be because I don't travel very much, nor am I forced to communicate in anything but English...

April 25, 2008

Tex Tubbs and a classic pie

We hit up Tex Tubbs mexican restaurant on University Ave last night (after another disappointing aparment showing on the east side). It's a local mini-chain in Madison (it has only 2 locations) that serves american-style mexican food...though a lot closer to authentic than, say, Pedro's (or, ugh, Taco Bell, which I am proud to say I have still never eaten an actual meal from).

Tex Tubbs was pretty good - the chances of us going back to Pedro's again is pretty small between this restaurant and Pasquals (both delicious). Their menu was pretty varied - there were at least 5 or 6 things I could have ordered and been quite happy with. Jennie got some Fajitas (her usual) which she enjoyed, though she thinks she'll try something else next time, given the variety. I got the 'El Pastor' burrito, which was quite tasty. It had a mixture of smoked pulled pork (very tender!) marinated in some red chili sauce with pineapples, and beans, etc. Everything came with some pico de gallo, which I usually do not like (given my aversion to tomatoes, which I am slowly getting over), but I had no problem with it this time (the cilantro in it tasted fresh, which was big).

My only complaint was that they were out of tortilla chips (what mexican restaurant runs out of chips?!), so instead of chips and salsa we ordered a Frito Pie, which we've read about but never eaten. It came in a opened frito bag (big plus) and tasted pretty good, though I don't think it would qualify as legit by Frito Pie snobs. I think I liked this better anyway.

Anyway, after that we headed home, and I made a Peach Blueberry pie, which was delicious. I put the crust in for a few minutes before filling it, which was a good move. I think the bottom crust wasn't cooked enough last time, and it made it a pain in the ass to cut up. We could get slices out of it just fine ~30 mins after baking this time, which really surprised me. I really had to make this tonight before our blueberries went bad. I've had crummy luck with fresh fruit lately (courtesy of shopping at Woodmans) - we got some INCREDIBLE blueberries a few weeks ago but since then they haven't been as good (or lasted as long). Same with the blueberries I got this time - they went bad in only a few days. Strangely enough though the strawberries have been keeping well though (I always have bad luck with them).

April 24, 2008

Awesome site of the day

I found a link in a Harball Times article today to a site called Fangraphs. At first look, it looks like your usual run of the mill baseball analysis site...except for these:

Fangraph of Cubs/Rockies game on April 23, 2008

This tracks the win expectancy (supposedly live) for each team as a game goes on. This is too damn cool. I'm going to check it out during the Cubs game this afternoon.

April 23, 2008

Learning something new

A few weeks ago, I went to a dinner get together with all the Chinese math grad students to celebrate the graduation/new job of Xu Yang (and some other people that I don't know so well). It was a cool experience - I was the only non Chinese speaker in the (large) group at the restaurant. Xu and I were talking about the differences in our various languages, and he encouraged me to learn Chinese, which is something that I had been thinking about for a while. It's not like I wouldn't have a ton of native speakers to get some practice with, and it would probably help me if I were to ever travel to China for conferences etc. (my advisor is Chinese and has many connections over there). Also, as I discovered from my year of Russian as an undergrad, I really enjoy learning new languages!

Not long after this, the semester started bearing down and I put this idea on the back burner. Of course, I'm still busy as hell, and will be in the future, so why not start soon? KLaw has learned several languages, and recommends a book by Barry Farber as a guide to learning a language on your own. Keith's own attempt at learning Chinese petered out after he learned 500 characters or so and got discouraged. He did recommend the book Chinese: An Essential Grammar, which is fairly inexpensive for a textbook to use as a grammar reference.

I'm not looking for miracles here, but it would be nice to be somewhat conversational by, say next summer. Here's hoping a fun ride!

Spaghetti with Sausage + Mushroom Marinara sauce

I went to the Farmers' Market last week (yay!), and while I was glad that it was finally back on the square, it's really too early in the season to get many vegetables. This is what I saw:

  • Meats

  • Cheese

  • Honey

  • Baked goods

  • Garden Stuff

Granted, I got there a little late (yay sleeping in), but the only vegetables I saw were some beautiful greenhouse tomatoes. I picked up some bacon from my favorite meat stand, and some italian sausage caught my eye. I decided that I would combine these in some sort of pasta sauce. Here's what I made

Spaghetti with sausage + mushroom marinara sauce
1 pound italian sausage
olive oil
6-7 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 big delicious tomatoes, chopped
1 can tomato paste
1 tsp mustard
1/2 c sherry
chopped basil
grated parmesean and romano cheese

In a pot, brown sausage in the olive oil, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. If you're not as scatterbrained as I am, you should add the onions and mushrooms at this point to get some of the good sausage flavor (I forgot, and grilled them up separately and added them later). Add the sherry and let it cook down until most of the wine is gone. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 45 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add some basil and add to the pasta of your choice (we used some RP's egg angel hair pasta). Serve with garlic bread and a tossed salad.

I liked it a lot, Jennie seemed to like it too. I think she likes her grandmother's spaghetti sauce recipe better though, which is pretty similar but has hambuger instead of sausage and no sherry. This recipe was pretty sweet, probably due to the sherry (not sure - italian sausage is sweeter than regular sausage). I might try making it with some red wine next time. Definitely a make-again.

Blog news

Inspired by Keith Law's blog, I'm changing the scope of this blog. In addition to rambling about the Cubs (which I do mainly during spring training), I'm going to start blogging about food (cooked by me or for me), books I read, and other random stuff. Hopefully this means I'll post more than my average of ~1 post per month...

March 29, 2008

Playoff Predictions


Dodgers over Mets in 5
Cubs over Snakes in 4

Cubs over Dodgers in 6

BoSox over Tigers in 4
Indians over Angels in 3

BoSox over Indians in 6

Red Sox over Cubs in 5

This is probably too optimistic for the Cubs...but I really do think the Dodgers match up well with the Mets. The rest of their rotation is much better than the non-Santana Mets starters, and they have an underrated offense. Really the Cubs should probably lose to the Snakes, then one of the NL West teams should get the honor of being obliterated by the Red Sox.

NL Predictions

NL East

NYM: 95-67
ATL: 84-78
PHI: 81-81
WAS: 73-89
FLA: 72-90

This prediction would appear that I am all over the Mets' bandwagon...but I assure you that I am not. Santana is fantastic, but I say meh to everyone else in their rotation. Their win total is more a reflection of how overrated I think their main 'competition' is. I see Philly as a .500 team, great offense notwithstanding. As bad as their pitching was last season, several of their guys were pitching above their ability. Moving Myers back into the rotation was the right move, but I don't think it will make up for some regression on Hamels (good, but not great), yet more attrition on Jaime Moyer, the revelation that Kyle Kendrick is a league average pitcher at best, and whoever occupies the rotating door at the 5th starter position. Offense can only get you so far, and this team matches up especially poorly with the Mets, who also have a great offense but better pitching. While the Phillies are overrated, everyone continues to underrate the Braves. They do have the pitching to go with a decent (not great offense) and that's a better formula for getting some wins. Washington should be a little better this year...though I'm probably just biased since I'm a HUGE Manny Acta fan. No one else gets more production from so little talent. Their outfield situation should be interesting this year, but their pitching isn't going to get them anywhere. As for Florida, I hope Loria enjoys all the cash he's pocketing from the team and his new sweetheart staduim deal. Here's hoping they call it 'Taxpayers' Stadium'.

NL Central
CHC: 91-71
MIL: 85-77
CIN: 80-82
PIT: 75-89
STL: 74-88
HOU: 69-93

The fact that the Cubs' record isn't much better, given so many crappy teams in the division (see the Mets, above) is that the Cubs are still a pretty flawed team. Their biggest asset is their bullpen - aside from that I see them as having a merely above-average offense and rotation (good but not especially great). Defense should be pretty good - we have 4 plus defenders on the field at any moment (maybe 5 if Soto is as good defensively as people are projecting). I am still a little worried about our D up the middle though. The club's biggest needs are upgrades at SS and at starting pitcher, but we're really only throwing out 3 replacement level players in our entire effective starting lineup (Theriot, Marquis, Dempster), which is more than anyone else in the division can say.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, has a great offense, combined with a very shaky rotation and a bullpen that probably isn't much better than last year's. The lack of depth in the starting rotation will make it seem like deja vu all over again for their overworked bullpen, and Gagne is definitely a downgrade from Cordero (and I don't think he will do as well as most seem to think). Actually, the best thing they did was sign Mike Cameron, which radically realigned their defense. Braun goes from a butcher at 3B to merely a crummy (at worst) defensive left fielder, which should be worth a win or two.

Cincy is a team with a ton of upside, but Dusty Baker + Young upside = bad combination. The fortunes of this team depend on how many ABs Bruce and Votto get. Even if they all get in there and Cueto/Volquez have good seasons, I don't think this is their year. But man, watch out in 2009/2010.

As for the rest, I put Pitssburgh above the rest on the strength of their pitching. They might have the trio of starters in the division with Snell, Duke, and Gorzelanny. Too bad the rest of their team is replacement level. St. Louis should just move their team to Birmingham, AL this year, due to their close relationship with Dr. James Andrews. This team is Pujols, Wainwright, and a whole ton of reclamation projects. I get the feeling that La Russa is going to just take it easy this year. As for Houston - hooray for the Ed Wade era! They should make their front office motto "Keeping mediocre middle infielders and middle relievers away from YOU since 2007"

NL West:
ARI: 94-68
LAD: 88-74
SDP: 86-76
COL: 81-81
SFG: 59-103

While Arizona's great season last year was kind of fluky, this year they truly have reloaded to make themselves a 90+ win team. There should be lots of development on their young players, and getting Haren was a great deal for them too. The NL west should be a tough division, but I think that they are the cream of the crop. The Dodgers should do well too, despite Joe Torre and Ned Coletti. That said, the more ABs Juan Pierre gets, the less likely they will win the wild card. Also, let's have a Moment of Silence for Scott Proctor's and Jonathon Broxton's arms...they will be hanging on by a thread by the end of this season. The Padres will continue their all pitching, no offense ways but they just don't have enough talent to compete with the top 2 teams in the division. I don't get all the love for the Rockies. Last year was certainly a great story, but they're still the Colorado Rockies. Look, I admire their retooling to offset the Coors effect, but they're really just the Phillies in a different stadium. The Giants will be awful. At least last year they had Bonds (still one of the top 5 players in baseball, when he plays at least). This year...well....they have Lincecum and Cain. And, um... (maybe I better change that...)

March 28, 2008

AL Predictions

Here are my predictions for the AL

AL East:
BOS: 98-64
NYY: 85-77
TBA: 81-81
TOR: 80-82
BAL: 60-102

I'm not as high on the Yankees as a lot of people. Chances are that at least one of their young pitchers will get injured/be ineffective, and the longer that Joba is in the bullpen the more it will hurt this team. Wang and Pettite should be good to great, but I don't expect them to have truly stellar seasons. They don't have very much pitching depth if more than one person goes down.

Likewise, I'm not wild about the Jays. Their rotation should regress, and I don't see much upside in their offense either other than Alex Rios. Tampa Bay is a good, young, up-and-coming team that should take advantage of down years by the Yankees and Toronto, and of course the terrible, terrible Orioles. It's going to be a long, long year in Baltimore.

AL Central:
CLE: 95-67
DET: 89-73
CHW; 77-85
MIN: 76-86
KCA: 75-87

Everyone seems to be all over Detroit, but I still think Cleveland is the better team. Detroit has a good offense but their rotation and especially their bullpen is much more voliatile. I still like them to grab the Wild Card in the AL though. The White Sox could have been a lot worse - they made some decent moves in the offseason but now was not the time to do it. They needed to rebuild in the face of the twin juggernaughts of Cleveland and Detroit this season. I could see the Twins or Royals moving up a few wins here, but really the teams right now are pictures of small market mediocrity (though they certianly still have more upside than, say, the Pirates).

AL West;
ANA: 87-75
SEA: 80-82
OAK: 77-85
TEX: 77-85

Even with the injuries to Lackey and Escobar, the Angels are clearly the best team in this division. Seatlle waaaay overplayed its talent last year, and while they did improve by adding Bedard, losing Adam Jones will hurt them. Oakland will be better than most rebuilding teams, but still has no shot. Texas still doesn't have pitching (who'd a thunk it?)

March 04, 2008

Bullpen Breakdown

For the most part, the people in the bullpen are pretty set. Here are the locks


I think we can probably add Pignatiello to this list too, considering how terrible Cotts has looked so far

The last slot is the long reliever - I expect this will be Marshall or Dempster (if he loses out on a rotation spot and we don't trade Marquis).

The question that remains is what everyone's roles will be. Clearly Marmol is our best reliever, but Lou used him the way you're supposed to use your best reliever last season, i.e., putting him in to kill rallies, or to face the heart of the lineup late in the game (but not the 9th inning). I'm hoping that he remains in that role, though I'm worried that he might get overworked. Lou really leaned hard on Marmol last season, but luckily he only got worked during the stretch as opposed to the full season. He showed he still had it in the winter leagues, so maybe he is a little more durable than the typical reliever.

My guess is that Wood will end up with the closer's role, but I bet it will be more of a classical 'Nasty Boys' style of bullpen, where Wood is favored for saves but not the mandatory choice if he's been working for several days.

Bullpen predictions
Wood (Primary Closer) -28 saves, 31 save opps, 60 IP, 65 K, 30 BB, 3.20 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
Howry (Backup Closer) - 9 saves, 10 save opps, 78 IP, 70 K, 15 BB, 3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
Marmol (Fireman) - 2 saves, 2 save opps, 88 IP, 115 K, 40BB, 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP
Wuertz - 70 IP, 72 K, 30 BB, 3.78 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Eyre - 50 IP, 45 K, 25 BB, 4.12 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
Pignatiello - 35 IP, 20 K, 12 BB, 3.98 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
Marshall (as reliever) - 63 IP, 52 K, 28 BB, 4.84 ERA, 1.44 WHIP

Pignatiello will look pretty good if you isolate his stats against lefties...most LOOGYs have deceptively good statlines because for the most part they are only brought in where they are expected to succeed (see Will Ohman, 2005). The reason why his numbers aren't even lower is that I expect him to pitch in some garbage time as well against a more general sample of batters.

February 26, 2008

Rotation breakdown

I've been reading the community projections over at Bleed Cubbie Blue and there is far more optimism with regards to our starting pitching than I feel is warranted. Let's look at who we have

Locks for the rotation
Carlos Zambrano - Most starting pitchers are pretty consistent. If they stink, they tend to get hit hard. If they're good, they tend to pitch well. Every pitcher tends to have a fluke start or two, but Z's swings seem to take much longer. Look at last year - he was terrible in April and May, great in June and July, terrible again in August, and great down the stretch in September. He ended up with a 3.9 ERA, which is good, but certainly not ace-worthy. Other worrying Zambrano trends include his rising walk rate and his huge workload over the past few seasons. That said, I think Z should bounce back this year. He'll still probably have a terrbile stretch or two but I don't think they will be as long. My guess is that he'll end up at around

18-11, 190 Ks, 100 BBs, a 3.5 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP

Overall this isn't ace-quality numbers, but when he is on, he should be pretty damn near unstoppable.

Ted Lilly - Lilly was a nice surprise last year, and for several stretches (see above) was the best pitcher on the team. That said, I think he's going to backslide a little bit this year. He's still a flyball pitcher pitching in a fickle park. When he gets hit, he gets hit hard. My guess is

12-11. 155 Ks, 80 BBs, 4.3 ERA, 1.3 WHIP

Rich Hill - I'm not as high on Hill as many Cubs fans, though I think he will be a good pitcher. It's really a matter of whether you think he's a 1-2 type pitcher (no) or a 3-4 type pitcher (yes). I'd probably lean more towards a third guy. Hill's got a wicked curveball and a decent fastball, and it's tough to get by with only 2 real pitches. Like Lilly, he's a flyball pitcher, so he doesn't really have Wrigley working for him. On the other hand, his stuff is better than Lilly's. Hill showed a lot of growth last season. He kicked ass in the minors, but somehow forgot to throw strikes when he got to the majors in 2006. Heading back to the minors after being thrown under the bus by Dusty Baker, he was called back up in August and seemed a different pitcher (Pre callup: 1.96 WHIP, after callup: 1.05). He looked like he had settled down last season too: his WHIP was 1.19, which is certainly decent. He gave up a fair amount of homers but it seemed like all of them were solo shots. Anyway, I expect him to improve a little bit more as he gets more experience and enters his prime. I'm guessing

15-8, 200 Ks, 58 BB, 3.71 ERA, 1.16 WHIP.

The (best of the?) rest
Jon Lieber - This was a great signing for Hendry, and surprisingly for this offseason, seemed to come out of left field. It seemed like everyone forgot about Lieber after he missed the second half of last year with foot problems. He was great for the Cubs in the past, and put up league-average numbers in a few seasons with Philly. The thing I like most about Lieber is that he rarely walks anyone, and I think that this is why he's the most likely out of everyone else I list here to make the rotation. Nothing drives Lou crazier than pitchers who can't throw strikes. He's more of a ground ball pitcher, but that's a pretty neutral factor with this Cubs defense. The advantage he gets from moving from Philly's hitters' paradise will likely be offset by the lack of Rollins and Utley vacuuming up grounders. The Cubs are much better on the corners, but up the middle is really what counts. Anyway, I'm guessing

7-7, 87 Ks, 20 BB, 4.68 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 20 games.

Jason Marquis - Ugh. He looked great in the first half last season and was awful in the second half, which seems to be a trend for him. I've never really figured him out...he's a groundball pitcher that somehow coughs up a ton of home runs. That K/BB ratio isn't something to write home about either....unless you're writing that it sucks. My hope is that he is traded as a part of the never-ending saga of the Brian Roberts deal. If not though, this is what I would expect (if he started the year as the 5th starter):

8-12, 90 K, 75 BB, 4.98 ERA, 1.45 WHIP

Ryan Dempster - Apparently he's been impressing in bullpen sessions. The file's still out on him until the end of spring to see what he really has as a starter. That said, I actually feel shockingly optimistic about Demp. All the data seems to be pointing the other way - he only had one good season as a starter (in 2000). After his TJ surgery the Cubs tried starting him again, and it was a miserable failure. Luckily he turned in the best season of his career after he was moved to the bullpen (if you just look at his relief stats)...he was pretty unstoppable. He didn't look quite so good last year in the closer's role, however. He did his best to try to kill Ron, but luckily for all of us he did not succed. Despite all this (1 good season as a starter, declining as a reliever), I'm inclined to side with Demp. It just feels right. So, per Stephen Colbert, it's gotta be true. My guess (with a full season - no Marquis!):

13-10, 135 Ks, 75 BBs, 4.51 ERA, 1.38 WHIP.

Note that my optimism doesn't mean that he will revert to 2000 Dempster. But I think he will be a little better than league average.

The Longshots
Sean Marshall - Everyone loves to look at his stats (e.g., Rotoworld, for one) and wonder why he's behind all the competition above? Really it's just a matter of talent. Marshall's stuff is not great, and you could see other teams figuring him out as the season progressed. His ERA continued to creep upward as the season went on, and the debate is whether it was overexposure or just fatigure from the innings he pitched. Plus, I don't think having 3 not-overpowering leftys in our lineup is a good idea anyway. Even though their styles are different, it just gives too many looks. Here's the projection as if he won and more or less kept the 5th starter spot

7-14, 90K, 50 BB, 5.12 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

He'll be hit harder as the season goes on. He might stick around as the long man, which would be OK with me.

Sean Gallagher - The other Sean has more promise, but I don't think he's *quite* ready yet. I doubt he wins a rotation spot out of ST, but I do expect him to be the front-runner to be called up if someone goes down/sucks in the Lieber/Marquis/Dempster trio. He's got 3-4 potential, but needs a little more time to refine it. I think he gets called up during the summer for a few spot starts, with an outside chance that he sticks in the back end of the rotation down the stretch. Prediction:

3-3, 47Ks, 29 BB, 4.44 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, (10 GS, 58 IP)

Overall I predict the starts to break down as
Z - 34
Lilly - 33
Hill - 30
Lieber - 20
Dempster - 27
Gallagher - 11
Marquis/Marshall/Hart - 7

February 25, 2008


I wasn't planning on starting my deluge of spring baseball related nonsense until the first spring training game (Thursday!!) at the earliest, or maybe not even until March. But I've just got baseball on the brain.

The latest scuttlebutt is that Lou is thinking of batting Fukudome third. Yes! Sort of. This is definitely better than batting him fifth - we need high OBP in front of Lee and Ramirez. I still think second is the best place for him. Lou's main issue in dealing with all this top of the lineup juggling is the need to break up Soriano, Lee, and Ramirez (who are all right handed). Combine this with the will-they-or-won't-they Brian Roberts trade, many fans have thought up many permutations of possible lineups. Here is the one I like best. Note that this assumes

1) Soriano can run full out
2) We trade for Roberts

2B Roberts (S)
LF Soriano (R)
RF Fukudome (L)
1B Lee (R)
3B Ramirez (R)
C Soto (R)
2B DeRosa (R)
CF Pie (L)

This does the job of breaking up our Right handed hitters, and keeps our OBP and speed at the top of the lineup. Soriano can still steal etc like he apparently wants to, and when he isn't swinging away he's fast enough that the bunt game works more in his favor than most players. We have two of our best OBP players in front of hte big sluggers too.

This assumes that someone is smart enough to remember that Derosa can play SS. Maybe not quite as well as Theriot/Cedeno, but it's not like they are known for flashing the leather themselves. If Theriot does play, put him in the 8 hole and move Pie up.

If we don't get Roberts due to various Orioles tomfoolery, I would prefer this

LF Sori (R)
RF Fuku (L)
1B Lee (R)
3B ARam (R)
C Soto (R)
2B Dero (R)
CF Pie (L)
SS Riot (L)

Of course, hitting in the 5 spot might be a little too much pressure for Soto. He should be pretty good though.

All said, what we will most likely have will be

LF Sori
SS Riot
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
RF Fuku
C Soto
2B Dero
CF Pie

Which isn't bad. I don't think Lou will actually put Fuku in the 3-hole due to the fact that he (sadly) seems set on having Theriot in the 2-hole and the aforementioned lefty issue. He might flip Fuku and Ramirez which would give a moderate boost. I still feel a lot better about this lineup than last year's - we've improved at C and RF and Pie should show some improvement too. Even if he doesn't, his glove should still keep him in the lineup.