Out With The Crowd: "Look, it's hard to count to three, okay?"
With the "Theo agonistes" stories going around the baseball press in the last couple of weeks, it seemed like a good time to chat with a fan of the franchise St. Epstein is expected to save from the cellar. Sean Driscoll talked to us about the Cubs' "super-extended" spring training, the re-Soriano-gence in left field, and teaching the infield to count.
Sarah D. Bunting: Who's your favorite new Cub in the 2012 season?
Sean Driscoll: On the field my options are thin, but you've got to love Bryan LaHair. He's slowing down a bit but I love guys who come out of nowhere and have that kind of pop. Hopefully he'll keep it now that pitchers are figuring it out, but he's been a joy to watch thus far. Off the field: Theo Epstein, Our Lord and Savior. Heh.
We'll get back to Theo in a bit, probably, but first: any least favorite acquisitions since last year?
Not really. I mean, there are guys I'm not thrilled with, but in terms of a "why the hell did they pick THAT guy?" No. It hasn't been the kind of year where they're trying to build a team to compete now; they're picking guys who can compete for years and then backfilling everywhere else.
I think every Cubs fan screamed "Oh, Christ, NO!" when they had to buy Koyie Hill to catch for a while midseason, but they were literally out of catchers thanks to injuries. So you gotta do what you gotta do, and he did what he was paid to do while they needed him to do it.
And there's been a league-wide catcher hex, evidently, so you kind of can't even count that. Anyone you were glad to see go since last year?
Carlos Zambrano. Look, the guy was nothing if not entertaining to watch pitch. I happened to be at his no-no up in Milwaukee for the Houston game that was a "home" game for the Astros. I also saw him pitch a 9-inning no-decision game in, like, 32-degree weather last year. He was awesome to watch, but whatever the hell was going on with him mentally was just too much to put up with for his production on the mound. We're paying out the nose for him to pitch for the Marlins, but oh, well.
He's on my fantasy team, and he surprised us to start out with, but…I think water is returning to its level now. Anyone you were sorry to see go?
Carlos Pena — he didn't have his best year, but when he caught fire, he was blazing. (Although my wife totally had a crush on him and his dimples, so maybe I'm not THAT sorry to see him go.)
Also: He didn't leave until this year, but Kerry Wood. I knew it was going to happen, it was right for it to happen, but it was still a heartbreaker in so many ways.
Also on my fantasy team, but that's not the only reason it was a sad case.
Right. He had an awesome career and was a true phenom, but between his injuries and general Cub frustration, it's hard not to think about what else could have been. But, story of our lives.
What's your feeling on his being pushed too hard early in his career?
I think there was definitely some of that going on, but I always think about his 20-strikeout game. That was his FIFTH career start. He had so much so early that, at least from a casual observer's point of view, how could you not utilize that while you're making a playoff run? I'm not intimately immersed in theories behind putting pitchers on an inning count per year and training and the like, so I can't speak with any authority on that matter (not that it stops anyone else, heh), but from a purely baseball perspective? In '98, you wanted him on the mound every fifth day, no questions.
Well, and it was in fact 1998. I'm not sure how much it matters 15 years later that his arm wasn't nursed carefully when he was a much younger pitcher.
Now that you don't have to worry about him breaking a hip out there, what's your biggest worry for the Cubbeenies in '12? (That your SS can remember how many outs there are? Hee.) (Sorry.)
Look, it's hard to count to three, okay? Heh. Yeah. Aaaaaanyway… It's kind of an odd thing right now, because the traditional worries at this time of year are already not a factor. It's damn near mathematically a foregone conclusion that they're going to be in the cellar. If someone else has a breakdown and we eke our way up to next-to-worst, then okay, but still. Psychologically, I'd like them not to lose 100 games, but they very well could.
I'd say my biggest worry is that the young talent gets brought up at the right time, whatever that metric may be. There's been a huge clamor to get Anthony Rizzo up from the minors to play 1B, for example, and it looks like it might be happening now, but for Chrissakes, that only matters in the abstract. This year is basically one long spring training season, so let the moves happen at the right time and not just to get some "pop" in a lineup for a team that's going nowhere.
So you see the Cubs finishing dead last. I don't disagree with that assessment; I'm wondering how many seasons you foresee spending in "rebuilding mode." I feel like CHC is not that many years away from relevance. (They killed my postseason pool a couple times, God knows.)
Realistically, this year and next for rebuilding. I don't think they're that far away either.
I actually meant it hasn't been that long since the last time they were relevant, but it was poorly phrased on my part. In other words, it didn't take them long to get here so maybe it won't take them long to dig out.
Oh, I see. Yes, that. They made the playoffs in 2007-2008, although that "winning a playoff game" thing was a bit elusive. They were still a factor in 2009; it's really only been the last two seasons that things have gone totally belly up.
Since we know who won't be going…who do you see making the World Series this year?
Well, I'm biologically unable to consider anyone from the NL Central, although the Reds are…man, I can't even type it. I think the Dodgers probably have the best shot out of the NL, and in the AL I think it will be either the Yanks or the Rangers, although the Orioles are my black horse there. It's just nice to see them back in the mix.
The AL East is a monster this year, man. Even more so than other years.
And the NL East is its…not "evil" twin. Inept twin. "No, you go ahead." "No, you be in first. We insist." Although that's been fun for Mets fans, since we weren't expecting…anything. Any pleasant surprises for you this year?
Well, his counting issues aside, Castro has clearly been making inroads on his defense. He's not the world's most patient hitter — I've seen T-ballers who could sit on a pitch more than him — but the trajectory is clearly heading in the right direction there. And Soriano has been on an absolute offensive tear in the last month, and he genuinely is making strong plays in left considering a) his knee, and b) his picture was next to "lollygagger" in the dictionary last year. I have no idea if anyone will want to pick him up as a DH, but at least he looks like he wants to come to work every day for a change.
Any unpleasant surprises?
I was really hoping Carlos Marmol was going to work out his control issues from last year. His DL stint may have helped him (I can't remember what the official reason was, but I'm pretty sure it involved Dale Sveum and a crowbar), but I reacquaint myself with God every time he takes the mound.
… and then God says "Not my problem, dude."
Ah yes. The Heilman Religious Conversion. …What's the one thing you'd tell your manager if you could?
Be patient and forget the past. The Cubs eat their managers alive, and that's as much a failure of management as it is the managers. I feel like Dale's got the backing of the bosses (although he did, by all accounts, get slapped for suggesting that Castro's ass would be on the bench for not being able to count to three, so way to undermine Dad's authority, MOM) so he needs to just do what he needs to do and ignore all the bullshit that comes with being a Cubs skipper.
Were you a fan of his hiring, or is it like you said — eventually he'll be eaten by piranhas, so why get attached?
I try not to get too attached. But they definitely wanted someone from out of the system and who understood the fundamentals they were trying to put in place, so I feel like he's got at least a few years of bedrock underneath him.
Last question: Anything bugging you baseball-wise? I'd like to stop hearing about Roger Clemens.
God, seconded. I think MLB needs to shit or get off the pot on replay already. I'm about as much of a traditionalist about baseball as there is — I'm still pissed about interleague play, to say nothing of the expansion of it next year — but the video technology is so good now and available so cheaply to everyone that it's getting pretty silly. There's got to be a way to get a better balance there. Maybe something akin to a challenge flag in football? I don't know, but I feel like there needs to be more work done there.
I totally agree. Have you read any of the Better Know An Umpire pieces on Deadspin? I'm not a super-regular reader of their stuff, but I'm liking that series — although it's maddening vis-à-vis how little umpire accountability it seems like there is.
I know, that's what drives me crazy. The one thing I love about the Cubs is listening to Bob Brenly and Len Kaspar on WGN-TV, and every time C.B. Bucknor umps a game you can literally hear the sparks flying out of Bob's ears. Obviously umps are human and will blow calls, but there's no system in place to get them the hell off the field when they're so consistently bad.
Obviously he's an extreme case, but the Deadspin series really shows how little internal control — oversight, whatever — there is.
And how basically bad they all are.
Right. Time to fire up the Ump-a-Tron 4000, I guess.
When Sean Driscoll isn't living and dying (mostly dying) with the Cubs, he's a newspaper reporter in northern Illinois. His love of the Cubs comes from his grandmother, who always had a soft spot for hard-luck cases.
Tags: Alfonso Soriano Anthony Rizzo Bob Brenly Bryan LaHair C.B. Bucknor Carlos Marmol Carlos Pena Carlos Zambrano Chicago Cubs Dale Sveum Kerry Wood Kookoo Crazypantses Koyie Hill Len Kaspar Out With The Crowd Roger Clemens Starlin Castro Theo Epstein