Thursday, July 5, 2007

This Guy Fills Out the Lineup Card With the Best of Them

Mariotti was wrong when he said that Piniella was the reason behind the Cubs sucking it up for the first two months. He's also wrong now about Piniella being the reason the team has turned around. The turnaround in the Cubs' season could have been expected due to their early bad luck, but I'm sure Jay's right when he says that it was all part of Piniella's master plan.

Lou-nacy to Lou-phoria

Piniella knew what he was doing all along, identifying the players who fit his plan best and changing the Cubs' woebegone culture

I have an absolutely wonky theory here, Jay. It's crazy and makes no sense because it's based on "facts" rather than "unsupported claims", but I'll go ahead and embarrass myself and state them anyway, just so you can see how stupid I am.

On June 1st, the Cubs had a Pythagenport of 27-25. Their record was 22-30.

Right now, the Cubs have a Pythagenport of 44-39. Their record is 42-41.

Over that time span, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez have been slugging .575 and .630, respectively. Zambrano has a 1.42 ERA. Three of the Cubs' four best players have had great months, while the fourth still maintained a .400 OBP over that span. This can account for much of the increase in runs scored vs. runs allowed.....very good players having a hot month. The actual record rising is some combination of that and the fact that the Cubs were not going to play 162 games scoring more runs than they allowed with a .423 winning percentage.

He duped us. Behind the need-a-nap eyelids, the Wannstedt-like stammering, the postgame outbursts and a temporary burst of insanity in which he treated an ump like Pigpen from ''Peanuts,'' Lou Piniella knew something we did not. I figured he was a 63-year-old wanderer who, like so many other managers who confidently assume they can solve Cubdom, had no idea the ivy was poison.

Who knew he actually was plotting a cultural coup, an attitude takeover?

Or....attitude takeover? That's what wins baseball games? Attitude? Not scoring runs and preventing them? I wish I could get a whiff of that serious attitude coming from Boston.

''The biggest job a manager has coming into this situation is to change the culture,'' he said at one point, when we weren't listening. ''If I don't change the culture here, I'm not going to succeed as a manager, period. It's a tough job, not an easy job. I've found that out. But you have to change the culture. And if not, there will be a new staff in here in whatever period of time.''

Whatever. Can't blame Lou for trying to point out the subtleties of his job. And I have to love how Jay uses "we" in "we weren't listening", as if collectively, the city of Chicago agrees with the things he says.

I'm not sure we've seen a wackier first half in the long and psychotic history of Chicago baseball than the one just experienced by the Cubs.

Tell me why there Jay....

Mark Prior and Kerry Wood faded away.

Cool. Guys that haven't been good in a few years because of injuries....still aren't good now. Wacky.

April and May brought 29 losses.

And what's that you say? A traditionally losing team only winning 42% of their games through two months? I can't fathom anything wackier!

Carlos Zambrano turned Michael Barrett's face into his personal pinata. Piniella grew desperate, abused an ump and was suspended for four games. Derrek Lee, normally a calm presence, brawled with Chris Young and was suspended for five games. Barrett was traded for the purpose of clubhouse preservation. A fan in khaki shorts hopped the wall, ran within a bunt of Bob Howry and wanted to ask the reliever why he allowed a home run. Every day brought a new lineup, a new controversy, a new mental blunder, a new conversation.

Oh yeah....that stuff. Your list was long enough without the first two things.

We thought we were getting Sweet Lou. What we got was Lou-nacy.

And tell me it hasn't worked out in some inexplicable, impressive way.

It hasn't. The Cubs are 42-41. There's very little inexplicable or impressive about that record in a bad division.

With 20 wins in 30 games and 10 in their last 12, the Cubs have been the best team in baseball the last four weeks, something they haven't been at the end of a season since 1908. This is all about the vintage work and relentless tinkering of Piniella, who surveyed the scene, took mental notes, weeded out undesirables, rewarded hustle and consistency and ignored clubhouse whispers that he was losing his club.

No. This has almost NOTHING to do with Piniella. Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano (who, by the way, play every day regardless of whether or not Ryan Theriot is in against a certain pitcher, or what defensive position Fontenot plays, or which pitchers Bowen is paired with), absolutely have torn it up since June 1. You can argue that Zambrano got better because of Barrett's departure, but Zambrano has been a very good pitcher for a long time, and he was bound for a recovery from that crap beginning of the year. Piniella deserves credit for one thing: keeping Fontenot in the lineup despite being a new face. Which, some insane people might argue, is a no-brainer when the dude slugs .596 during a 30-game span.

Rewarding hustle and consistency is what the Dodgers did when they paid Juan Pierre too much money. You gonna give props to them too on a great move?

He easily could have chucked it all and returned to the broadcast booth, but as he said when he was hired, this is his final job in a potential Hall of Fame managerial career. He left Seattle early and returned home to Tampa Bay. He left Tampa Bay early because the player payroll was lower than promised. But he wasn't going to quit Cubdom, even if the scrutiny and pressures of a 98-year plague drove him daffy. ''I didn't come here just to make a little more money and go home when the time comes,'' he said.

I can't believe what a hypocrite you are. I mean your columns basically begged him to quit for weeks.

He came to win. And finally, he is doing just that, having installed his program and unearthed the players who can make it work. When Barrett was an irritant to Zambrano and others, Piniella purged him and watched his ballclub go on a not-so-coincidental roll propelled by Zambrano's resurgence.

It was pretty coincidental. Zambrano has pitched better, but that only accounts for a 5-1 record over 6 games, not far from expected considering he's your best pitcher. The rest of the starters have all been worse during this time span than during the beginning of the year. And if you're suggesting that Barrett's jerkoffishness has anything to do with Ramirez, Fontenot, and Soriano playing awesome, you're dead wrong. And by the way, Barrett's replacement, Rob Bowen, has one hit since being on the team.

When Jacque Jones, Matt Murton and Cesar Izturis couldn't cut it, they were yanked. He found inspiration in energetic kids, Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot, and pretended they were two David Ecksteins.

Now you're just BEGGING for trouble. Theriot doesn't take much imagination to turn into Eckstein (coincidentally, he's not a very good offensive player!), slugging .351, but Fontenot? You ever hear of Eckstein slugging anywhere NEAR .600?

He rode his stars -- Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Lee, Zambrano -- and demanded their best.

As opposed to other managers, who don't care whether players try.

Theriot and Mark DeRosa might bounce around the lineup five ways in five days and have no choice but to deal with it.

Because they're utility players. It's their job. DeRosa never whined in Texas....that was left for Kevin Mench.

When Fontenot committed a first-inning error at shortstop, Piniella moved him to second base an inning later. If players were upset by the constant swirl, he didn't want to hear it.

You're arguing that this is a reason why the Cubs have been on a tear? Because Piniella changes a player's position after ONE ERROR? This is not only an overreaction by Piniella, but incredibly insignificant as well.

''I don't care about feelings,'' Lou snapped.


This is called changing a culture. If it's a fresh concept in Cubdom, realize it's why Jim Hendry hired Piniella. Dusty Baker's plan had long run its course, turning lethargic after the heartbreak and burnout pitch counts of 2003 and blame-the-broadcasters dreck of 2004. For Lou, a ballclub is a lab experiment that requires the right dosages of passion, smarts, talent, versatility and a team-first approach. It took a while, but the scientist has cooked up a formula that should keep the Cubs competitive in a watered-down National League at least into September.

The formula: Have your best players hit the crap out of the ball and have your best pitcher be ace-like. Get luckier than before, and have one suprise guy in your lineup on a mega-hot streak.

As they were winning two of their first three against the Nationals in Washington, Piniella recalled examining his lineup last Sunday at Wrigley Field.

''We had two players -- the first baseman [Lee] and third baseman [Ramirez] -- who were there at the start of the season at their respective positions,'' he told the traveling media. ''That's a lot of movement in a three-month period. And it has been working out better.''

How well a player hits has to be pretty darned close to independent to which position on the field they're currently playing. Barrett being gone does help the defense, though.

The urgency of the recent surge can't be understated amid an ownership change. Cubs management won't admit it, but there were nervous folks in the executive offices as the White Sox won a World Series and gained a stronger marketing foothold. But the Sox have blown much of their momentum, allowing the Cubs to re-establish their predominance as the hallowed baseball experience in town. Piniella has been the bridge to a new era, and while he certainly can explode like Ozzie Guillen, he has class and perspective that the Blizzard needs to study and try to adopt.

Obligatory Ozzie = Blizzard of Oz reference.

Who ever thought Piniella's summer challenge would be to temper enthusiasm? Cubdom is drooling again after a series of highly charged, joyful moments -- the stunning Ramirez home run to beat the Brewers, the season-defining blown lead and comeback win over the Rockies,

Both clearly a result of Piniella's management skills.

the suicide squeeze on the South Side that reminded Sox fans of how Piniella stole a playoff series in Seattle in 2000.


That series was SWEPT by the Mariners. Swept. The Sox were down 2-0 in the series and looking helpess to hit baseballs. The score was 1-1 in game 3, and there was a runner on 3rd with one out in the bottom of the 9th inning. If you're telling me that the Mariners won this series because Piniella had Carlos Gulillen lay down a bunt, then you have set the record low on every single aptitude test that asks you to identify "cause and effect".

Between the victories and sideshows, the Cubs have been a must-watch revue. But don't tell Piniella they've been the best team in baseball lately.

''I don't know about that,'' he said. ''I do know we're playing good, aggressive baseball, and it's translating into wins for us.''

Which is all you've ever wanted in Cubdom, when you think about it.

That and you fired. "Soxdom" too.


larry b said...

what the fuck does "lou-phoria" mean? worst play on words, ever.

pnoles said...

Lou-nacy, Lou-phoria, Lou-py, Blizzard of Oz, he's got all the bases covered. That's why he has a job. To make up names to call people.

Chris W said...