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TODAY

Friday, November 24

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Airbags

I spend hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word I can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season I'll boil them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. You're welcome.

One: Further Proof That Jesus Hates Your Team, or Aramis Ramirez Pulls Up Lame

Maybe you thought it was Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez you saw limping into first Wednesday, but really it was Derrek Lee's MVP chances. A-Ram, as the kids call him, has a "moderate to severe strain of the right quadriceps" and is likely headed to the disabled list. The big hit here is to Lee's MVP chances. Without Ramirez behind him, there's just no reason to pitch to Lee with runners on. Lee as MVP might have been the saving grace of an otherwise lost season. But what are the odds that the conservative MVP voters will recognize a guy on a losing team who finishes, say third or fourth in RBIs, even if he is clearly the best player in the league? Um, not good.

Two: Where the Hell is Jermaine Van Buren and Why Haven't You Heard of Him?

The next time a Cubs reliever serves up a meatball that ends up being knocked over the centerfield wall or completely loses track of the strike zone, I want you to reflect on these numbers: 24 saves, a 2.01 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 53 and 2/3 innings with only 54 baserunners allowed. Those are Jermaine Van Buren's numbers for the Cubs' top minor league team in Iowa. He's 25 years old, healthy, reliable as clockwork, and has yet to pitch a single inning for the big club this year. Why not? Hell if I know. You've gotta figure he'll get called up when rosters are expanded in September, but with the bullpen imploding left and right all year, why has he had to wait so long?

Three: The Red-Headed Stepchild Gets Demoted, or Why Does Dusty Hate Rookies? Part LVII

Despite hitting .339 during his stint with the big club, outfield prospect and proud redheaded 'fro wearer Matt Murton was demoted to AAA Iowa last Friday to make room for Jerry Hairston. Anyone who watched this kid talking Greg Maddux's ear off trying to learn more about the game or even — miracle of miracles — actually regularly drawing walks (see how that works, Corey? if you don't swing at crap pitches, you actually get the occasional base for free) is rightfully disgusted. If/when Baker finally does get canned, you can point to his total disinterest in all players not stamped Proven Veteran™ as one of the prime causes.

Four: Cubs Pick Their Arizona Fall League Players, or It's Never to Early to Give Up and Think About 2007

The Arizona Fall League is a sort of showcase for the best and brightest of the minor league prospects, a sort of high-level proving ground where guys who have a shot at surprising and making the big league club ahead of schedule (as well as the occasional youthful retread) can strut their stuff. Looking at who gets the call is a good way to get a read on players the Cubs think might soon prove useful. Notable players the Cubs are sending this year include top outfield prospect Felix Pie (or "Felix Foot," if you care to translate), Corey Patterson's little brother Eric Patterson, the aforementioned Murton, reliever David Aardsma (who just beat out Hank Aaron for "first in alphabetical among all major league players") and Angel Guzman, a once-lauded pitching prospect whose entire body seems to be composed of papier-maché.

Five: Jim Hendry Gives Cubs Manager Baker His "Vote of Confidence," or Pack Your Crap, Dusty

There's this sort of dance that goes on when a manager is about to be fired. And this part, the part where, apropos nothing, the general manager goes to the press and gives the manager his "total vote of confidence"... well, that's kind of like when parents emerge from their bedroom after a half an hour's worth of screaming and say, without being prompted, "Don't worry, Timmy, we're not going to get divorced." It's just a matter of time.

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to inbox@gapersblock and we'll forward them.

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