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Cubs-Brewers Preview: Chat with Byron, of The Cubdom

To get us excited about the first installment of the 2005 Cubs-Brewers extravaganza, I got together with Byron Clarke, who writes the excellent Cubs blog The Cubdom.  With further ado, here's our conversation of earlier this evening:

Byron, The Cubdom: Well, I saw you guys destroyed the Bucs in two games so far. What keyed your offense?

Jeff, Brew Crew Ball: Heck if I know!  Actually, it was contributions from everybody.  Hardy came through with a clutch hit opening day; Cirillo and Branyan are both making like Mike Schmidt...the way the games have been going, I wouldn't have been surprised to see Sheets or Davis go 2 for 3, and you know what great hitters those guys are.  

Cubdom: I seem to remember Sheets hitting well against the Cubs.

BCB: Really?  Last year he cracked .100 for what I believe was the first time.

Cubdom: I checked out Ben Sheets batting record against the Cubs... not too good. He is 0 for 30 with 2 walks. Thats a .000/.062/.000 line.  

BCB: That's probably better than Doug Davis's line :-).

Cubdom: Doug Davis is 1/13 so a .077/.077/.077 line against the Cubs.

BCB: I wouldn't be surprised if he's better against the Cubs than against any other team in the NL.

Cubdom: Yeah, I'm using Baseball Musings' Day by Day Database.  He is .033/.043/.033 lifetime. That is 3 for 91.

Who all is starting for you this series?

BCB: Looks like it will be Capuano, Sheets, and Santos.  Sheets is going out of turn because of the off days.  And for the Cubs we'll be seeing?

Cubdom: Wood, in his first start of the season. He's been hurt and hasn't faced major league hitters in about 10 days.  Then we'll probably see Zambrano and Maddux.

BCB: What do you predict for Wood's first outing?

Cubdom: I think he will pitch well but use too many pitches. He's always had a problem with pitchcount, so he'll be lucky to go six. He'll probably give up about three runs, strike out eight and walk four. Zambrano will be looking to go deeper in the game, and so will try to get the Brewers to put balls into play. Maddux is pretty bad in April, so we'll see what we get.

BCB: I really like Maddux, so I'll be conflicted in that game.  I guess I'll root for your bullpen to melt down.  How do you see the late innings shaping up the Cubs with Farnsworth gone, Dempster in the rotation, and Borowski out for a while?

Cubdom: The bullpen is a huge question mark. I don't know who the closer is supposed to be. Dusty Baker told the media in the beginning of the spring that he would definitely choose a closer. Then, I must have missed the announcement. Anyhow, everyone is assuming the role belongs to LaTroy Hawkins who has basically come out and said that he doesn't want it.

The rest of the pen is an interesting amalgam of guys recovering from the Tommy John Disease as our former broadcaster likes to call it. We've got Chad Fox who will probably be working in a setup role. Mike Remlinger, our left handed relief specialist who can't get lefties out. Michael Wuertz who has impressed me once in his big-league career (on Monday). Jon Leicester and Todd Wellemeyer who are two Cubs farm products. Big righthanders bringing some heat, but with control issues. We're carrying 12 pitchers, plus we're playing a DL trick with Prior.

I forgot to mention Glendon Rusch who was slated to be the fifth starter over the winter, but got put back into the pen in the Spring. Rusch has been very flexible since he signed with us last year... and pretty effective too.  What does your bullpen look like? I know you traded Kolb to Atlanta.

BCB: Yep, Kolb is gone.  And Vizcaino, who had been an on-again-off-again reliable set-up guy, was traded to the White Sox in the Carlos Lee trade.  That leaves Mike Adams as the presumptive closer, but he was shaky in spring training, and hardly has a proven track record--he's only been in the bigs since last June or so, though he was pretty reliable as a set-up man last year.  I've been saying that whatever the bullpen looks like now, it isn't going to look that way in a few months.  

Derrick Turnbow may get a look as closer, as might Ricky Bottalico--he has the history, and thus possesses super-closer-mojo.  The rest of the 'pen is a mix of interesting guys who might be able to step up: Wes Obermueller, who will be the 2005 edition of Brooks Kieschnick; Matt Wise, a handy swing man and a much better pitcher than most people realize; Tommy Phelps, our LOOGY, who inexplicably pitched in both of the first two games, including a 1/3 inning appearance yesterday, and Jorge de la Rosa, another lefty who's probably only on the roster because he's out of options.  And there are handful of guys in AAA who have some potential and we'll probably see in Milwaukee at some point.

Cubdom: How is Carlos Lee working out for you? Did he have a good spring? He has a lengthy record of doing severe damage against the Cubs.

BCB: Lookin' good so far!  Solid spring, couple of solid games so far.  I think many Brewers fans believe it's Lee's presence in the middle of the lineup that has spurred the rest of our guys to the pair of blowouts.

Cubdom: What do you think of the new owner, Attanasio? Are you happy to see Bud/The Selig Family Trust gone, or what?

BCB: Everything looks good so far.  The ownership change resulted in an immediate payroll boost, which allowed the Carlos Lee trade to happen, and may make possible a long-term extension for Sheets.  Whether or not you like those deals, it's great to have ownership that's committed to getting the Brewers down the road out of small-market purgatory.  

I've heard him interviewed a couple of times, and he seems genuinely interested, and his wife has turned into the most rabid Brewers fan in the few months since the deal went down.  We may never have a payroll like you guys do, but we have a shot to be more competitive, especially when the current wave of prospects start to contribute.  Speaking of payroll, how do you feel about the Ramirez extension?

Cubdom: I personally am thrilled.  There has been some discussion though that the Ramirez deal leaves the Cubs holding the bag as far as risk is concerned. Ramirez can walk away after two years, but the Cubs have to guarantee four. Plus, there is a vesting option that depends on games played, and not performance levels.  Provided Ramirez continues to perform as well as he has, it'll be a great deal. We have him inked for at least two more years though, so I like it.

BCB: Have the results of the opening series in Arizona worried you at all about the 2005 season?

Cubdom: A bit. You're pitching staff has allowed only four runs in the two games you've played. Our staff wasn't able to keep the D-Backs to less than five in any of those games. The offense was incredibly inconsistent last year, and has looked so again in Arizona. But, I think it will be better this year. I also think the Cubs would have been better served to get out of Arizona for their first few games. I wonder if the proximity to Mesa had them feeling like the games were spring training games.  We'll know for sure Tomorrow that it isn't though.

What is your opinion on Ned Yost?

BCB: Seems like he's done a good job of motivating the team, and the Yost/Maddux team has done wonders with some pitchers everyone else gave up on, like Davis and Victor Santos.  Yost came to Milwaukee from the Atlanta coaching staff, and apparently he still talks with Bobby Cox very frequently.  There are a lot of similarities there.  

I'll be more confident in Yost as soon as he makes a decision to ditch either Helms or Cirillo.  Carrying three third baseman, none of whom have much value anywhere else on the diamond, and two of whom will probably be way below-average offensively, is a massive waste of a roster spot.  Especially when you could see that decision as the one that caused Kieschnick's release.  

Cubdom: Brooks was released? I missed that.

BCB: Yes, before the Crew broke camp.  He signed a minor-league deal with Houston that was announced today and will report to AA Corpus Christi.

How do you feel about Dusty?  Do you think the way the Sosa situation shook out will be better for the Cubs in the long run?

Cubdom: Oh goodness, don't ask me that. I don't know. I think he is a bad in game manager. I just don't understand his decisions. But the fact is the man wins... and he wins a lot. So, I'm not looking to have him fired. I just bellyache a lot. The Sosa situation was badly mishandled by the club. They should not have publicized his early leave from the clubhouse. They destroyed his value and then had to trade him. I mean we traded a first ballot hall of famer who will hit 40+ HRs next season for a utility player and two minor leaguers who will probably never make the show... and we payed about $18 million too. That is the definition of a bad trade.

How big is the Milwaukee payroll this year?

BCB: It's up around $45 million, up about $10 mil from last year.  Could increase a bit more, as any Sheets extension would probably replace the current deal, meaning he'd make $9-10 mil this year instead of the $6 he got in the one-year deal.  Carlos Lee accounts for almost all of the increase (Podsednik wasn't making much) and Damian Miller makes up the rest.  

Before we wrap it up, what's your prediction for the weekend series?

Cubdom: Cubs win 2. The Wood and Zambrano starts.  Yours?

BCB: The Milwaukee bats are on fire, and while I'm sure the Cubs will do fine this year, all of these overworked and half-injured starters will begin the season slowly.  I've got the Brewers down for a sweep.

Thanks, Byron, for chatting with me.  I look forward to doing it again.

And readers, be sure to check out The Cubdom!

Update [2005-4-8 1:55:27 by Jeff]: Byron and I edited this a little differently, so if you'd like to read it again with different punctuation, here it is.