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Inter-blog Reciprocal Discussion with Bleed Cubbie Blue

Gosh, had so much fun doing the five and five roundtable with Fish Stripes that I was just itching to hurl still more incomprehensible questions at a fellow blogger.

And, of course, to have five more hurled at me.

Fortunately, Al from Bleed Cubbie Blue was only too happy to share his expertise. I'll present his answers to my questions right now, then share the reverse sometime tomorrow morning. You can tell I had a bunch of fun with the questions, but I probably should have asked him a White Sox question:

TCB: Carlos Zambrano: Ace of the 2005 Chicago Cubs, and beyond. True or False?

BCB: Absolutely true. While Mark Prior & Kerry Wood, the supposed aces from 2003 and who were going to lead us to the promised land, spent most of the last two years on the DL, Z has been the staff ace for the last two years, not missing a start, throwing what many of us consider an unconscionable number of pitches (he threw a 136-pitch complete game earlier this year), but he seems to have the stamina to handle this sort of workload.

I like Z's passion for the game, too -- he just has to learn to keep it under control. Sometimes it's hard to remember, considering that if Z wins his last two starts he'll have 50 career wins, that he turned 24 in June. Lots of guys 24 years old are still pitching in Double-A. One of the things Jim Hendry has to do this off-season is sign Z to a long-term deal. The Cubs have the payroll room to do this.

TCB: Fill in the blank, like they did in "Match Game 77," if you remember that:

If the Cubs could have just successfully    (blanked)    this year, they might have progressed to the playoffs.

BCB: "Match Game 77"? Hey, I'm old enough to remember the ORIGINAL "Match Game", hosted by Gene Rayburn. OK, so I watched with my grandparents.

But anyway:
What can fill in that blank? I could say a lot of things, but many of them are not printable in a family-oriented blog like this one.

The best answer is "put together a better pitching staff". The staff didn't have anyone as good as Z, other than Z; there were too many injuries, too many guys (Mike Remlinger!) who just were no good, and the failure of management to install Ryan Dempster as closer till mid-May doomed eight games to blown saves prior to that event.

LaTroy Hawkins, a good setup man, was forced into the closer role when he wasn't suited to it last year, and Dusty Baker pigheadedly stuck with him, not only blowing games but pretty much ruining Hawkins' career and forcing the trade (which could wind up really benefitting the Cubs, if Jerome Williams, who is also only 24 in December, can become the top-notch starter he appeared to be as a Giants prospect).

TCB: As fan of a team that has done very well against the St. Louis Cardinals, do you have any insight into what the Cubs may have had that caused the Cardinals problems? Beyond Derrek Lee, I mean.

BCB: The Cubs are likely going to finish within a couple of games of .500 either way -- they have to go 6-3 to finish .500, 7-2 to finish over. They are a CLASSIC .500 ballclub, which is to say they play up or down to the level of their opponent. The Cardinals are a good example; so are the Astros, for that matter; the Cubs have played 5-4 ball against them and played very well in Minute Maid Park. Speaking personally, I have seen five Cubs/Astros games at Minute Maid in the last two years -- the Cubs have won all five of them.

The opposite side of this coin is the Cub record against the Cincinnati Reds, a really poor team with a putrid pitching staff. The Cubs were 6-9 against them.

More evidence of this .500ness: the Cubs have scored 675 runs, and allowed 678.

TCB: To the extent that 2005 can be considered a failure for the chicago Cubs, how would you assign blame (in %) among the following likely culprits:

   25%    Dusty Baker
   50%    Jim Hendry
   15%    Latroy Hawkins
   10%    Kerry Wood
     0%    Neifi Garciaparra

"Neifi Garciaparra"? That's a good one. Nomar's injury was a freak, and he's hit well since he returned. Neifi did a good job for a couple of months, but he is not an everyday player.

TCB: This is free space, if you want it, to construct your argument for Derrek Lee, MVP:

We certainly thank Al for his informed opinions, and his grasp of baseball history. He must think I'm a clown . . . .