The-o Balll-gaaaame! Let’s get some rings.

In less than two hours from now, the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise changes.

If the Cubs’ front office were on a reality makeover show, the appointment of Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations would nail every single desired goal. The face of the franchise will appear younger, more successful and more appealing.

Why debate what to do with Wrigley Field when you can simply hire someone of Epstein’s class and achievement, giving the home team a much needed facelift that way instead? It makes so much sense it is almost scary the Cubs thought to do it.

After resurrecting Boston from the 86 year deep grave the Red Sox had dug themselves with a world championship in 2004 and then again popping the champagne bottles for good measure in 2007, Epstein leaves his hometown team a hero. In this day and age when it comes to the Cubs and the Red Sox, it is always about heroes and goats – sometimes of one type, sometimes another. Chicago has had its share of literal and metaphorical goats. It is time the Cubs have their share of the G.O.A.T. If Epstein can manage to bring a title in the Cubs after defeating baseball’s other most well-known curse, he would arguably be considered just that – the greatest of all-time on a long list of baseball executives with impressive career resumes.

Since 1975, the year of my birth, the Cubs have made the playoffs in 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008. Of the past thirty six years, the team has played in the postseason six times. On average, we are looking at once every six years and at an even greater clip than that as of late. Many fans would kill to have that type of experience. Despite the heartbreak that comes with it – and Cubs heartbreak takes is to another level- the playoffs are the goal. Get in and anything can happen. Hope springs eternal once a division is claimed or a wild card berth is born. Hendry gave fans a taste in his time as the Cubs’ GM on three separate occasions. An impressive accomplishment considering the black cats and goats and interfering fans that linger around Wrigley to be sure. The bar that Hendry has set is hardly the bar Cubs fans will be looking at though when it comes to Epstein. With Epstein, it will be the bar he set for himself while in Boston that everyone will be keeping an eye on.

Hendry made the baseball moves that will effect the franchise for another few years to come. It is a role that comes with an incredible amount of responsibility and opportunity. Epstein’s position with the team is all that and more. Not only will he be making baseball moves, he will be making them from a perch above that of GM. He will be making deals as well as naming the GM, not just being one like he was in Boston. He will be under greater scrutiny than Hendry because of his own accomplishments, his own strategic choices and the people he chooses to surround himself with.

Epstein thinks these guys are the guys we should have around? Jed Hoyer? Jason McLeod? Ok, fine. The fans will go along with Theo’s judgment calls and he will have some time to let those calls play out. However, Hoyer and McLeod and possibly a new manager will be lumped into one collective group taking responsibility for wins and losses, success or failure. No one will have greater responsibility than Epstein of course, however his group in the front office will eventually be broken down and analyzed like any Soriano contract or Zambrano meltdown.

Before Epstein gets to do any re-signing he had to do his own resigning. Leaving the Red Sox was hard for him to do once as he tried before in the last decade, simply to return months later. This time, there is basically no going back. Epstein has committed himself to bringing the type of baseball euphoria he brought to Red Sox fans, to the long suffering, desperately hungry fans in Chicago. If successful, one day there may very well be a statue of Epstein outside of Wrigley. I wouldn’t be surprised. If he fails, he will likely be remembered as a guy with great baseball smarts, able to strike lightning in a bottle two times, however simply not a third.

Three strikes are generally bad in baseball, at least if you are the hitter. With Epstein being the voice of reason in trade and free-agent signing pitch meetings, a third strike would be a hit with Cubs fans everywhere. Today at 11am CT, Theo Epstein will be introduced as the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations. Strange enough, his first deal in the coming days will be for himself. Epstein will have to decide how much he is worth while balancing with the thoughts of what he would like to be left with.

If successful in Chicago, he’ll be left with an arguably unmatchable legacy as a baseball executive. That is what Cubs fans everywhere are hoping for as the Epstein Era begins. Considering the luck the team has had in the past century, there hasn’t been a whole lot for fans to be thankful for. As a result, they have infinite ‘no…thank YOU’s held in reserve. Just give them a reason to use them, Theo. There is no thank you note a Cubs fan could receive that would be more of a welcome sight than the type you wrote to Sox fans.

Come Opening Day 2012, it will be time to take ourselves out to ‘…The-ooo ball-game’. Let’s get some rings. Go Cubs Go!

 

World Series: Holland’s tunnel vision wins Texas game four

Last night’s game four of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals featured a pitching performance few fans saw coming.

After the Rangers gave up sixteen runs to the mighty Albert Pujols and friends the game before, it was the 25-year-old kid from Newark, Ohio with an extremely bright future who shut down the Cardinals offense and lifted the darkness of potential Cardinal momentum and domination in what would have been a 3-1 lead in the Series for St. Louis.

Derek Holland delivered a lights out performance Sunday night giving up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings. The stage and what was at risk gave greater weight to an already stellar achievement leaving many to question whether it was the best pitching performance in the history of the franchise.

Talk about saying a lot. You are talking about a franchise that has featured great pitchers as recent as Cliff Lee and as long ago as Nolan Ryan. Clutch victories, no-hitters – in Ryan’s case, multiple no-hitters. Sunday night was as much about the past though as it was about the future. Two organizations battling it out, like heavyweights exchanging body blow after body blow. One organization who has never won the title and another who has proudly displayed ten since last winning in 2006.

The outcome of game four would deliver short term and long term implications. If the Rangers were to lose, they would find themselves in the deepest hole one can find themselves in, in a best of seven Series. Down three games to one, with only three left to play. The likelihood of the Cardinals claiming number eleven? Let’s just say if they had won game four, someone with an St. L on the office door name plate would have had the local shelvesman on speed dial. If the Rangers were to win, the Series would be even. They would have met the mighty offensive attack from the National League that won 90 games this season blow for blow in a toe-to-toe first four games of a winner take all best of seven.

Thanks to Derek Holland’s focus, skill and baseball history bookmark-worthy performance, the Rangers walked away with the latter. Holland gave up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings and walked off to a rousing ovation from the home crowd.

For those who love a high scoring game, Holland wasn’t out there to oblige Sunday evening. For fans who enjoy watching the unexpected players in the Series steal headlines away from those we all thought were likely to command the audience’s attention, Holland was perfect casting. Rangers fans may be familiar with work of ‘The Dutch Oven’ as they so affectionately refer to him, however for MLB fans who follow another team, merely watching a Rangers game because it happens to be game four of the World Series, for those fans this was a breakthrough performance for Holland.

He threw two-hit ball with only two walks and seven strike outs over eight and a third, including keeping Mr. Five-hit-three-homers-six-RBI hitless the day after he looked like he may win the Series by himself for the Cardinals (Pujols). The first two thirds of this amazing drama (Holland’s 16-5 regular season and then the first eight innings of game four) played the crowd into its hands and had fans on the edge of their seats waiting to see how it was to end. Once Texas’ manager, Ron Washington, sent Holland out to finish what he started, they would not have it any other way.

The way Rangers Ballpark sounded as Holland jogged out to the mound to start the top of ninth, it seemed as if each and every one of those fans, had they been Washington, would have done the exact same thing. This was Holland’s show now. Not Cruz, Freese, Pujols, Berkman, Young or Hamilton. Holland was the hero of this drama and the audience wanted to see him pull through. A tribal yell of ‘Adrienne!’ would have felt appropriate at this point. Everyone loves an underdog and Holland was set to play the role to the end. Center of the field. Center stage. All of the attention of millions watching centered on him.

After successfully getting the first of three outs he needed to close it out for himself, Holland gave up just his second walk of the game. Knowing the dramatic difference between going home and sleeping well on a 2-2 Series as opposed to possible pulling a Grady Little and leaving Holland in too long resulting in a blown opportunity and a 3-1 hole, Washington headed to the mound.

This may have been the most nerve-wracking, edge of your seat visit to the mound since Little-Grady in 2003.

While I was watching, I was again blown away by the power of baseball and its drama. I am not a Rangers fan. I am not a Cardinals fan. However, I could not believe how giddy I was about what was taking place. I had nothing on the line yet I knew how much Holland did. While Holland pleaded his case behind his glove, the infield surrounded the mound. They, like us, anxiously anticipating what Washington would decide to do.

The conversation went on for so long, I just kept saying to myself, “He’s going to leave him in. He’s going to leave him in!” Had Washington allowed Holland to finish what he started and go after that second out of the inning, of his game – the noise from Rangers Ballpark, not the television, would have possibly awaken my one-year old son. Considering it was his birthday yesterday, it would have been an amazing baseball situation to wake up to. The crowd would have gone ballistic. I was feeling more excited about a Rangers pitching performance than I ever had before (which would not have taken much considering I’m a Cubs fan). Watching this drama unfold, the night’s climax was starting to feel like when I saw Rocky IV at the theater and the audience around me started going crazy cheering for Rocky against Drago as he fought his way back against his overbearing, overpowering opponent. I am almost embarassed how how excited the crowd in the theater that night was for a fictional charater’s victory. In Texas, they were rooting for Holland, a real life baseball player, with the fate of a franchise in his hands. Imagine what that must have felt like in person.

The meeting on the mound seem to take forever. Then, Washington made a move. He started to turn to his right and I would have bet that he was about to jog back to the dugout. It would have been the jog heard around the world.

The cheers came, however not because Holland was allowed to continue the fight. The cheers came because he Washington had punched his time card and Holland put in a day of work like no one else on the field. Rangers Ballpark erupted with appreciation for what the young pitcher had done for their hopes of obtaining a World Series title. No one man could possibly say you’re welcome as loudly as those tenths of thousands of people were saying thank you. Holland tipped his cap to the Rangers’ faithful, received congratulations from his teammates in the dugout and took his place along the fence to watch Neftali Feliz finish what Holland had started.

In doing so, Holland also took his place along side the greatest Rangers’ pitching performances of all-time. Considering what was at stake and the stage he was on, quitely possibly the absolute greatest of all-time.

Rangers fan? No. Cardinals fan? No. However, as a baseball fan, this was a must-see performance. As the day of ‘Game 162′ at the end of the regular season brought a thrilling day of baseball to millions of MLB fans who didn’t even have a team in the mix, so did last night’s performance by Holland.

An amazing outing to be sure. One that Rangers fans and baseball fans alike may look back at as the 8 1/3 innings that sparked the Rangers to claim their very first World Series championship. Baseball. What’s not to love?

The BBA Chicago Cubs chapter votes: The Walter Johnson Award

Today’s post is serving as the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, Chicago Cubs chapter vote for the best pitcher in the National League. The BBA created the award to honor the top pitching talent in the game and named it after one of the greatest ever to take the mound.

Here are the BBA Chicago Cubs chapter votes for the Walter Johnson Award (our votes count towards the best pitcher in the National League seeing that our chapter is a National League chapter):

1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD: Made 33 starts, 233.1 IP, 2.28 ERA and won 21 games for a Dodgers team that struggled to score runs. Kershaw led the NL in strikeouts with 248 and notched 2 shut outs.

2. Cliff Lee, PHI: Allowed just 62 earned runs over 232.2 IP, struck out 238 batters and easily led all of baseball with 6 shutouts.

3. Ian Kennedy, ARZ: Quietly won 21 games with a 2.88 ERA to help lead Arizona to the NL West title. There is something to be said about the starting pitcher that performs the best on a team that outperforms expectations.

4. Roy Halladay, PHI: Virtually identical stats to Lee but sported a better ERA at 2.35. Halladay led the NL East winning Phillies with 19 wins. Hamels and Oswalt served Philly well, however it was Halladay that formed the second head of the Phillies dominant two-headed beast along with Lee.

5. Dillon Gee, NYM: Gee finished the season at 13-6 and 114 strikeouts in his rookie campaign. Without Santana and dealing with injuries all season, the Mets were desperate for someone to step up and perform well this season. Gee’s 6-0 start put him among the greatest rookie starts by Mets pitchers of all-time, tied for fourth in the franchise.

While the entire chapter generally submits for each award, this time around, these votes represent input from both myself and Brian at Bullpen Brian. More information about the BBA can be found here. Go Cubs Go!

The BBA Chicago Cubs chapter votes: The Goose Gossage Award

This is the time of year that a handful of posts will reflect on the season that has past and reward those who deserve acknowledgment. As the Cubs’ chapter president of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, you’ll find our chapter votes posted here for numerous awards. The BBA award listed below this post was for the manager of the year. Today, it is for the best relief pitcher in the National League, the Goose Gossage Award.

After much deliberation, our chapter is voting for the following three relievers. From first place through third we vote for:

First place: Craig Kimbrel who set the rookie saves record with 46 and held opposing teams’ batters to a .178 AVG.

Second place: John Axford who went 46/48 in save opportunities. His mustache scores some intangible points here as well.

Third place: Joel Hanrahan due to the fact that he put in 70 appearances and allowed only one home run while only blowing four save opps. After the second half the Pirates had, we felt they should have something to smile about. (The Cubs were lacking a long list of things to smile about in 2011 we realize as well. Thing is, looks like we’re getting Theo Epstein, so we can give this to Pirates. It’s the least we can do.)

More votes to come as well as a Prose and Ivy post about our new pal, Theo. Looking forward to the Cubs and Red Sox making his deal OFFICIAL. Go Cubs Go!

BBA Chicago Cubs Chapter votes: The Connie Mack Award

In representing the Cubs chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance as president of the chapter, our votes for the BBA’s Connie Mack award which has been created for the alliance to acknowledge the best manager in the NL, here are our first second and third votes for the award. More re: this award and the upcoming awards to come! Go Cubs Go!

Best NL Manager of 2011 votes:

1st place: Kirk Gibson

2nd place: Tony LaRussa

3rd place: Terry Collins

(These votes represent the votes by Bullpen Brian, Prose and Ivy and Cubs Billy Goat Blog).