Hey there, grease traps. You know, the missus happens to be a big fan of Chopped, a cooking show where the contestants have to make somethin’ tasty using surprise ingredients. If they don’t, they get eliminated … or chopped. Clever.
It got me thinkin’ about the Cubs, and how every season is like a mystery basket full of ingredients — winning streaks, slumps, heroes and goats, dazzling plays, mental errors and player chemistry. No matter what’s in your basket, though, you gotta put somethin’ on the field that can win. If you don’t, you get chopped. Or you’re the Phillies.
This season, the Cubs haven’t exactly been turnin’ the baseball world on its tastebuds. In fact, last night’s roasting of the Marlins — tasty as it was — was little more than one of those amusing bush things you get at a place like Alinea. It was a taste; somethin’ to get your appetite going. Problem is … you never know if they’re gonna follow it up with a gigantic slice of chocolate covered winning streak, or a dried out, nasty tastin’, stick-in-the-throat, pathetic two hit loss.
That’s been the recipe so far this year — outlined below — and it’s left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. I don’t know about you, but it wouldn’t break my heart if Maddon figured out how to serve up some of that 2016-style, deep dish Cubbie pie.
CUBS RECIPE FOR DISASTER
(Serves approximately 3 million people)
1 fresh World Series champion baseball team
1/2 (approx.) season of baseball
1 disabled list
Remove any remaining glory from last year’s championship team and discard. Separate out Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist and set aside. Combine the 37 wins and the 35 losses until they reach an average consistency. Remove the skin from Jason Heyward’s hand, and fully strain one of Ben Zobrist’s wrists. Add both to the Disabled List. Let chill for 10 days. While chilling, bring Addison Russell’s marriage to a boil and spread it out all over the newspapers. Finally, take one partially seasoned Kyle Schwarber and send him down to Triple-A, Iowa. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients with errors or until fully bland.
May cause indigestion, headaches, hair loss and occasional bouts of Tourette’s Syndrome.
Now I don’t think it’s time to go full on Gordon Ramsay or anything just yet. There’s a lotta baseball left. Plenty of time for the Cubs to whip up a batch of wins and make it to the playoffs. But they better turn the heat up pretty soon if they wanna pair any champagne with their season.
The bunt. No one likes to bunt. Pitchers bunt, but that’s cuz they can’t hit. Except for Cubs pitchers — who CAN actually hit — which means they don’t like to bunt. There’s no majesty in a bunt. No glory. Not a single player has ever been signed to a multi-year, silly-money contract cuz he could lay down the perfect bunt. You won’t see the Bunt Derby substituted for the Home Run Derby at the All Star Break. Ever. They don’t hand out plaques at Cooperstown for tappin’ the ball down the line. And no fan will ever bid a hundred grand for a ball that went 37 feet. Most of the time, a bunt means you’re willing to give yourself up for the cause. It’s noble in that regard, but in the arsenal of offensive weapons, it’s the BB gun.
Yet, with all 10 mph of its minuscule exit velocity, last night’s bunt, by Ben Zobrist, was perhaps the most powerful blast of the night. Yeah, yeah … Rizzo and Russell went yard. But I say that four run 4th doesn’t even get started without Zobrist makin’ the bunt heard ’round the world. It was the catalyst for the entire 10 run barrage, and simultaneous collapse of the Dodgers’ ability to play defense. In fact, if you consider what happened from that point forward, it would be more accurate to call it a lionalyst or tigeralyst than a catalyst. Name it what you want, Ben’s willingness to get the ball rolling by … uh … getting the ball rolling was what it took to CPR the Cubs offense. In psychological terms, that bunt was a 500 foot moon shot over the center field bleachers.
After that, the genie was not only outta the bottle, he was grantin’ just about every single wish that could possibly come to the mind of a Cubs fan. At least the ones that can happen in front of 54,449 people, and that don’t involve Salma Hayek, Scarlett Johansson and a can of Reddi Whip. We’d gone 21 innings without so much as sneekin’ a peek at the plate, and had accumulated just 6 hits in 60 at bats in games 2 and 3. For a while there I was hopin’ we could pull Mario Mendoza outta retirement. Instead, Zobrist ignited the Cubs’ jets by doin’ somethin’ most clean-up hitters probably have written outta their contracts. What followed was epic.
Four runs in the 4th. Monkey? What monkey?
In the bottom of the 2nd, Adrian Gonzalez is called out in a close play at home, but on review it’s plainly obvious that he was safe. Still, the bozos in New York uphold the call. That was baffling. I mean what’s the point of havin’ reviews if the umps in New York are gonna leave their seein’ eye dogs at home?
A one-run 5th. After givin’ back a couple of runs in the bottom half of the 4th, Rizzo says, WTF, and takes one of ’em right back.
During this particular at bat, Rizzo starts headin’ to first on what he believes is ball four, only to be called back by the called strike of home plate umpire, Angel Hernandez. Then, in the words of Harry Caray, “ho-leeeee coooooowwwwwww!” Instead of standin’ on first with a walk, Rizzo deposits Pedro Baez’s pitch in the bleachers. Don’t know if he said anything to Hernandez when he crossed the plate, but I think a thank you would have been in order.
How ’bout five more runs in the 6th? Cubs world, Cubs world! Party time! Excellent!
Rizzo and Russell gather 3 hits each, and both had round-trippers. I don’t know how many times that’s happened, but I can’t imagine it’s been very often.
In a game where just about everything goes right for the Northsiders, Zobrist gets a second bunt single, of the swinging variety this time, makin’ it a multi-hit game. This one involved a close play at first, and Zobrist was originally called out. But the review went in favor of the Cubs, again, and the call was reversed. This time, New York got the call right.
Like Zobrist, Fowler, too, has a couple of hits, including a double.
Contreras unloads the Guns of Navarone on Justin Turner, pickin’ his bushy red ass off — not first, not third, but second. Awesome.
The Dodgers, who made just 80 errors over the course of the regular season, make four in this one game. So no matter how much Adrian Gonzalez whines about that call at home plate, or how much momentum he thinks was stolen from them as a result, the Dodgers dirtied their own diapers, defensively, last night. They LOST the game. AND they were beaten. And how did they handle it? Like you’d expect. They were moanin’ louder than the entire stable at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch.
Montgomery, in keeping with the hitting prowess of the rest of the staff this post season, bangs out a single.
Heyward, although 0-5 and pretty much as anemic at the plate as he’s been all year, has a couple of good at bats, one that ended up drivin’ in a run.
All in all, things were different last night, for both ball clubs. The Cubs finally started playin’ like the Cubs, and the Dodgers had their season-long luck run out, followed by a heapin’ helpin’ of sour grapes in the clubhouse afterwards. Given the trouncing we took in games 2 and 3, it would give me a world of satisfaction to tell LA to “go get your shine box” right now. But it ain’t over. It’s down to the best 2 outta 3. No room for mistakes.
Though never definitively proven, Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was believed to have said afterwards, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” I think LA unleashed their Pearl Harbor in games 2 and 3, and now the sleeping giant is wide friggin’ awake.
Was that the Chicago Cubs I saw in Dodger Stadium tonight, or a Sears tower-sized turd? I think the latter.
At first, when the whole pre-game thing filled the ball park with instant smog, just to remind everyone where the hell we were, I thought maybe that was makin’ our guy’s eyeballs water, which would explain why they were havin’ so much trouble seein’ the ball. But as the game wore on, it became apparent that what was really happening was the Cubs has succumbed to the whole “Hey, look, Larry King is sittin’ like … RIGHT THERE” thing. Whatever it was, stars or smog in the eyes, Chicago swung the bat tonight like Helen Keller. Blindfolded. I kept hopin’ LA would put a 10 year old girl in to pitch, cuz I know we couldn’t get a hit off a 12 year old one.
It pretty much went like that for most of the night. Then, in a move that makes about as much sense as Donald Trump, Maddon decides it’d be a good idea to pinch hit Heyward for Russell in the 7th. I grant you, right now Addi with a bat in his hand is about as dangerous as Mother Theresa. But I’m at a total loss to explain Heyward as the stick of the moment. You have Wilson Contreras on the bench, who can actually make contact with the friggin’ ball, by the way, but Joe goes with the most over-paid, underperforming player in Major League Baseball. You pull one no-hit bat (Russell) for another, and what happens? What the F do you think happens? He watches a strike 2 meatball go by that Louis Braille woulda tattooed, then wildly swings like a kid at a piñata party at a pitch that was in the next time zone. What’s the logic, Joe?
We can’t even get a friggin’ sacrifice when we need one. Of course if it were up to me, we’d tie Kershaw down on a makeshift altar, sprinkle him with a little Beverly Hills poodle blood or somethin’ and set his ass on fire. There’s your sacrifice, pallie. Maybe that would appease the baseball gods, which seem to be extraordinarily pissed off at the Cubs right now. Even if it didn’t, we’d have at least done something to help our chances against these Hollywood yayhoos.
Rizzo’s 9th inning stroke-of-luck, broken bat, squeeker of a hit was a symbol of what Chicago’s offense has been throughout the playoffs — a shattered remnant of it’s former self. That hit — and it was a helluva lot more like a 50 foot putt than a batted ball — brings Rizzo’s average up to a scorching .077. Watch out!
The Cubs have now gone 18 consecutive playoff innings without crossin’ the plate. Besides being a King Kong-sized, steaming pile of inept crap, that means our offense just broke their previous playoff record of 16 scoreless innings, set during the 1906 World Series … which we lost. I’m just sayin’. When your season is only 7 games long, maybe less, you can only go so far if you can’t hit the damn ball. There aren’t another 155 games to even out the slumps. If the Cubs wanna have a chance at puttin’ the curse to rest, it’s time they started swingin’ the bat like the Chicago friggin’ Cubs, not the Elmhurst Little League Cubs. No offense, Elmhurst.
Tonight’s fun facts: There are no fun facts tonight. There are facts, but none of ’em are fun. 1) The Cubs were 4 for 31 tonight. 2) We struck out 10 times. 3) We also left 11 guys on base. See what I mean? No fun.
“Guess there’s a little Slim Shady in all of us.” — Eminem
Okay, I’ll admit it, sports fans. Rap and hip-hop music sound about as good to me as a shattered glass enema. I graduated high school in 1978 and grew up with an eight-track in the Pinto that I stuffed with Bob Seger, Joe Walsh, and Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo. Look, pal, I don’t know if the real Slim Shady ever stood up or not, but I can tell you this: havin’ a first name you hate so much that you gotta change it to Eminem is tragic. (And, oh, by the way, that whole melts-in-your-mouth-and-not-in-your-hands thing is a load of crap. Holding a handful of those babies for more than, like, two minutes at Wrigley in August will make you stickier than Bill Clinton at a White House intern orientation.)
Which brings me to the point of today’s lesson, Cubs lovers. Take a knee.
In addition to being hard rock axe men who paved the musical way in my hay day, Seger, Walsh and Nugent have something else in common: they all have real, honest, hard first names. Hey, if the name on my birth certificate was Marshall Mathers, I might have a sweet candy alias too. But it’s not. I’m Joe. Joe Schlombowski. And names — front or back — don’t get much harder than that, my friend.
See, you got hard names and you got soft names. Hard names are bestowed on the fortunate sons of men who ignored their wives’ pleas to taint their new bundle of joy with a sensitive ringtone. Hard names, like Bob and Joe and Ted, and like Alex and George and Dan and Mike and Hank, are coughed off the tongue, dripping with masculinity and other admirable character traits. Like John Cusack said in The Sure Thing, “Nick’s the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn’t mind if you puke in his car.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course, John — uh, yeah, that’s a hard name — is a devoted Cubs fan who’s been known to lead the Wrigley Faithful in Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Soft names, on the other mitt, reek of maternal coddling. Avery, Ashton, Todd, Caleb, Joshua — all of them conjure up the image of a friggin’ fat kid with a notoriously soft Justin Bieber haircut whose only playing Little League so his overbearing, Boeing Apache mother can bring him a lemon Gatorade and Fruit Snacks in the dugout every other inning. I mean, have you ever heard a coach yell, “Goddammit, get in front of the friggin’ ball, Jasper!” without makin’ Jasper cry? Of course, not! Coach has no time for a kid with a soft name; he wants a dirty, tobacco-chewin’, fist-fighting animal named Rusty who drinks from a muddy water hose only after the game’s over.
The Cubs have a roster chock full of hard first names. Anthony, Ben, John, Joe, Danny: hard, hard, hard, hard, hard. And Jake? Like a ten-peckered billy goat, pallie.
Still, there’s cause for concern.
I’m sorry, was it Jesus Krist? Me thinks not. Stop making shit up! Spell it with a C-H as the good Lord intended, and you firm up immediately. Hell, you might hit a hundred homers!
Please. Using your full first name when it’s got a perfectly good abbreviation is a play made by guys who work at Nordstrom’s makeup counter. You may have been Jonathan at home when you forgot to pick up your marbles, but on the field you’re John — JOHN! with a friggin’ H!
Uh, got a nickname, kid? Like Spike, maybe? Use it. And have your driver’s license reflect the change. By far the softest name on the club.
And then there’s … Theo.
Theo? You guessed it, pal. Softer than Elton John’s bed sheets. An eephus pitch with a little extra taken off. And so close, too, because “Ted” is an unquestionably hard name — one given to some real bad asses, like the aforementioned Motor City Madman, whose guitar is so loud he can knock the balls off a charging rhino at sixty paces (did I mention the Double Live Gonzo album?). Tragically, somebody — perhaps his mother or some spoiled Harvard frat buddy called Skip or Thad or Corbin — somebody thought “Ted” wasn’t cute enough. They got that right, sports fans. “Theo” reminds me of the cotton candy I see meltin’ in the cheap seats. Hey, don’t get me wrong. Your name could be Alice and if you got me to the World Series I’d take a bullet for you. So far, the calls Theo’s made have been remarkably strong and the Cubs have sat on top of the baseball world all season. But I’ll be honest with you, sports fans, I’m about as comfortable as Robin Ventura at a Ryan Family reunion.
Early this season, the Cubs and the White Sox got out of the gates hot, and it looked like we were headed to the Windy City War this fall. But the Sox, slapdicks that they are, folded like a used condom and are now struggling to stay above .500. Meanwhile, the Cubs marched on to a 12 ½ game lead over the Cards by June 18. Since then, however, a few things have happened: First, we lost four in a row — twice — before losing five in a row. Uh, enough said. Second, Jake’s ERA in July was 5.55, which on paper means the Cubs need to score six runs to win when their best guy is on the bump. That’s askin’ a lot of any team hitting in the Majors today, even the 2016 Cubs. By the All-Star Break, we were still in first place, but the Rangers, Nationals, and — God, I hate saying this — the friggin’ Giants all had more wins than we did. Worst of all, we had won just twice in our last ten games, and the Cardinals were only seven games back. Now they’re just 6 ½ back — well within striking range — with 59 games left to play.
No habla espanol, but with a 104 MPH heater, I’m thinkin’ Aroldis Chapman has a hard first name. Provided Theo’s latest acquisition punches out more opposing hitters than he does the women in his life the Cubs should be headed to the playoffs, where having led bell-to-bell will mean zippo, my friend.
But I digress.
Mama’s, you don’t have to let your babies grow up to be cowboys. But if they do end up riding a ranked bull someday, they’ll have a better chance of hangin’ on for eight seconds if they can say their first name without makin’ themselves sound like, well, a Harvard frat boy.
Hey there, Ouija boards, Joe Schlombowski here with a little analysis of why Addison Russell was destined to be the hero of last night’s come from behind thumping of the Reds.
Baseball is a sport full of superstitions, right? I mean, you got guys that put on the uni exactly the same way — every item in the same order — when they’re on a hot streak. You’ll also see guys step over the chalk when they’re running on or off the field (which never made sense to me cuz when they’re actually playing they don’t give a crap if they step on the lines). And then you got people like me, who never ever change their underwear in the middle of a winning streak. (The way things are going so far this year, it looks like I’m gonna get a little crispy, now and then.) You also got the curse of the billy goat, and the black cat thing at Wrigley … and let’s not forget Steve Bartman.
So what does this mean? Well, my palm reading friends, it means there are forces at play that effect what happens on the field; forces that have nothing to do with the structure of the game, or the rules, or talent, or reason. How else do you explain Bucky Dent? Because of these forces, you get things like the 2004 Red Sox, who should have and would have collapsed under the weight of a 3 game Yankees lead in the ALCS, but instead magically came back to win it and then … AND THEN … sweep the Cards in the Series! Divine intervention? Mariano Rivera lost his rabbits foot? It was something.
That’s just a smattering of evidence, but it gives you an idea of why Addison Russell — not Rizzo, not Bryant, not Soler — and not some other redwood-sized bat was destined to be the hero of last night’s 2016 home opener.
Here’s my theory: Wrigley Field is located at the intersection of Clark & Addison, right? Is it just a simple coincidence that Russell’s first name happens to be Addison? I think not, pal. And how about “Russell.” That name, in French, means “reddish.” Like the color red. And … we were playing the Reds. That’s just friggin’ spooky. He’s also got a “W” as his middle initial. Case closed, pal.
I don’t think you can argue with this stuff. There are just too many things in baseball that can’t be explained by the analytical mind of Tom Verducci or Joe Posnanski. So, whatever you Cubs fans have been doing for the first week of the season — for instance puttin’ on a sock and a shoe and a sock and a shoe, instead of the socks first and then the shoes, keep it up. It’s working.