D Lee Denies LA

Lee opted to stay with the Cubs instead of waive his no-trade clause to be sent to the Angels. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the best Cubs first basemen of all-time.  If he wants to stay and finish his contract, so be it.  Happy to have him through the rest of 2010. Technically we’re not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs so who’s to say we can’t pull off something miraculous.  Granted, we are WAY further behind in the standings than I would’ve expected to be at this point.  I would have thought we’d be about 5 games back and still in the thick of things by now and only behind the Cards possibly (I really don’t think anyone saw this season coming from Cincinnati).  However, Lee’s commitment to the team is something I respect and I’m happy to have him slugging away (or let’s face…or not) for the rest of this season. I mean, not this happy:

…but happy.

Lilly on the other hand is another story and I’m not sure how much longer we have Super Ted on the squad.  Demp had his time at the top and Zambrano was supposed to be the team’s ace and he completely fell apart over the time Ted’s been here.  In the few years we’ve had Lilly he’s been the least supported, most consistent pitcher on the team.  If we had five Lilly’s and essentially in that case, no ace, we would have won more games over that time period than with the guys we’ve had.  I honestly believe that.  I think we would have three-peated in the Central from ’07-’09 and would have seen the playoffs for one more season than we did.  Which would have given us one more chance at redemption to make up for being swept in the first round of the playoffs two years in a row.
We are definitely sellers in the market though as you don’t hear any of the big names left as rumored to be coming to the Cubs.  Lee doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and Lilly is the big sideshow right now that all the other clubs are coming to see/scout and hopefully land in their own flying circus.
The team is going to look extremely different next year and I’ve accepted that.  Great chance that our first baseman, second baseman, rotation, bullpen and right field all are all occupied by different players in 2011.  If you have any favorites on this team, enjoy them now because next year, who knows whether they’ll be back or not.
On a personal note, my father-in-law has been moved from the hospital to the rehab center and it seems as if he’ll finally start the rehabilitation process after having a stroke three weeks ago.  I was up there with him over the weekend but had a chance to catch the Hall of Fame induction on MLBN.  Lots to come about that in the coming days.  Go Cubs Go!

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Blessing in Disguise

When it comes to Chicago Cubs baseball, if recent events have taught us anything, it’s never say always.  One of my favorite things to say here at Prose and Ivy is, “We’ll Always Have Pittsburgh”.  Given our performance in the past against the lowly Pirates, it always appeared on the year’s schedule as a gift-wrapped blessing.  A small three day break if you will where wonderful things happen like Cubs home runs flying out of the park, pitchers dominating on the mound, Cubs ending up on the right end of a blow out and W flags are hooked to the flag pole rope at the top of the first for it’s inevitable rising after the top of the ninth.  Plan to head home early folks because the Pirates are coming to town.  There won’t be any Cubs batting in the bottow of the ninth because there won’t be one.  These games are given.  The Pirates can’t handle the talent and the skill level the Cubs bring to their games.  Regardless of how the Cubs were going, if you see Pittsburgh coming up on the schedule, get ready for at least a three game turnaround and find your brooms.  The Cubs were about to seem the Pirates and all will feel right again in Wrigleyville.

That was then.  This…is now.

All of a sudden, the Cubs can’t be counted on to beat one of the worst teams in all of baseball and the cellar dweller or the NL Central.  See that .342 winning percentage and the 17 games that they currently sit behind the division leading Reds?  Don’t let that fool you!  When the Pirates have had the all-of-a-sudden priviledge of playing the Cubs, they are a surreal .800 ballclub!  In ten games against the Cubs this year, they’ve won 8 and lost 2.  What?!?  WHAT!?!  There are certain things that this blog feels it can count on:  baseball magazines and websites and blogs will have the Cubs listed as contenders in the Central, talk whether this is the year and then the Cubs will let you down come October (some seasons even earlier); Dempster will predict the Cubs will win it all; Carlos Marmol will be responsible for at least six heart attacks across the midwest throughout the course of a season; Sox fans will hate on Cubs fans and vice versa; and if nothing else is going our way, hey hey…at least ‘We’ll Always Have Pittsburgh’.  Well, that last one apparently no longer applies.  And it just may be a blessing in disguise.

Think about how this season is going.  The Reds lead the NL Central and the Cubs currently sit in fourth place looking up at the unfortunate view of Brewers behinds, hardly even keeping the Cardinals in sight, while the Reds are a ******** 10 games out in front of them.  The offense thinks it’s still the off-season.  Carlos Zambrano is seeing a shrink.  Piniella seems to be snoozing through the first half of the season.  All of our ‘all-stars’ suddenly look too old, too injured, or too apathetic.  Castro started out hot and then cooled off to an average pace.  Wells can’t seem to find the form that kept him one of the club’s most dominant pitchers in ’09.  And for some reason, we CAN’T beat the Pirates.  Fine.  If that’s the way it is…if that’s the way it’s going to be, then perhaps the rest of the things we’ve come to expect can start to make a change as well.

Perhaps the head shrink can get Zambrano under control and he can perform out of the bullpen upon possibly returning after the All-Star break.  Perhaps Wells can find his form and start to lead this club through a charge to possibly make up 10 games to the top of the division.  Our crosstown rivals just made a huge push to put themselves in the club of relevant baseball teams for this year, and if they can do it I KNOW we can do it.  Perhaps we will find a way to win one run ballgames in the 2nd half of the season.  Those eighteen losses in one run games might just be the single most frustrating aspect of 2010.  Perhaps since what has become the norm against Pittsburgh has been turned on it’s head, maybe all of these other things we’ve come to expect from this team this year can take a change of course as well.  Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.

Of course, if it does happen there is a very good chance that we may have a few different guys wearing that same disguise as there are rumors that everyone from Zambrano to Marmol to Fukudome to Lilly are on the trading block.  I’m not sure how far behind we need to be for Ricketts to consider himself a seller as opposed to a buyer.  He’s a good business man it seems, but he’s also a fan.  I wonder how hard it must be for him to make rationale decisions when analyzing at point this particular team is no longer going to make the push it needs to contend.  I wonder if Ricketts thinks Pittsburgh is just another symptom of an extremely frustrating and disappointing Cubs season.  I wonder if he can find a way out of this mess and find the blessings in all of this turmoil.  So many fans on-line if you read around the Cubsblogosphere have already said ‘please, no more’ or are very close to taking that flag and throwing it in like a towel.  I don’t like our odds against the rest of the league if we can’t even handle Pittsburgh.  However, I didn’t expect Pittsburgh to put the beating on us the way they have.  Hopefully an unexpected 180 on this season’s trajectory is around the corner as well.  If not Pittsburgh, we’ll always have fool’s hope, right? 

(Any thoughts you’d like to share can be done in the comments section, or if you’d like, you can call into tonight’s Baseball Bloggers Alliance podcast.  I’m guest hosting tonight at 11pm EST and you can find the show’s site and information here!  And since I’m hosting with WebSoulSurfer who runs a Padres blog, I’ve included a clip of the Derrek Lee/Chris Young fight.  Why not?  Enjoy.  Go Cubs Go!)


Boy, Oh Boy

I still can’t believe the Central is turning into a two team race and it’s the REDS battling the Cards for the division lead.  I felt in the beginning of the year that the Cubs are probably in a position where they are just too brittle and a little too old to really contend.  I picked them to win it all (of course) however deep down I knew it would take something more than a miracle to make it happen.  Sure, adding Castro was exciting and brought the team’s average age down a bit but in the end, he’s part of a team struggling to find a way to make it over the hump and win on a consistent basis along with the Cards and Cincinnati.

We’re not in a very good position looking up at the Reds with our star third baseman changing his batting grip because he’s too hurt to hit the way normally does and has for over a decade now.  It’s not good that that same player is openly speaking to the fact that the entire locker room is filled with guys playing through pain. Look at the calendar.  It’s only June 23rd.  We haven’t even hit the all-star break yet.  We haven’t even made any significant dent in the dog days of Summer.  We’re eight games back, too fragile, too old and too unlucky. Piniella is hoping we hit a streak leading up to the big game.  Why wouldn’t he?  Of course he does.  He’s a winner and he wants to win.  However I don’t see it happening with this squad in 2010.

Piniella recently mentioned the team is 10-16 in one-run games this year when a reporter brought it up.  26 games so far this year that the team was in and yet we fall six games under five hundred in those contests. Intangibles and luck win you one-run games and we are falling short in both cases.

Lilly started the season late and while physically present, has really shown up in the stat or win column the way we need him to.  Chances are Carlos Silva will be the team’s lone representative in the All-Star game on July 13th in Anaheim.  I’ve said it before and will say it again.  Carlos Silva?!?  If he’s the best we’ve got….the guy no one expected much from except to show up to the Cubs like aspirin and help rid us of a headache…then we are in big trouble.

Remember a couple years ago when the NL All-Star team was flooded with Cubs?  I attended the all-star parade that year here in New York and it was awesome to see our favorite Cubbies rolling down the Avenue of the Americas representing the best of the NL and the Cubs team with the most potential since the flip of the new milennium (yes I believe our 2007 and ’08 squads were better than the ’03 team).  Now we’re simply shells of our former potential.  The last names are the same but the guys in those uniforms are simply beyond their true opportunity to win it all.  It’s sad really but without significant moves or a stroke of dumb luck, once again this will not be our year.

This is that weird time of the baseball season where it’s too late to say it’s early and it’s too early to say it’s too late.  However this team needs to dig deep and make things happen quick.  Find a way to get on base and score some runs to support our rotation. Find a way to win one-run ballgames and of course when possible, enjoy being on the right side of a blow out.

Some big series are coming up and lots of baseball left to play, but boy, oh boy…it is time to dig in and start looking like contenders.  Cincy and St. Louis aren’t messing around and aren’t going to wait around for Chicago to get it’s act together.

Almost feels like it’s time to get that Cubbie swagger back that they had a couple years back, basically refusing to lose and just plowing ahead all about winning.  I went to Mets/Tigers tonight and the Mets improved on their home field advantage driving their record at home to 26-10.  They are a team that seems to have figured it out and are simply refusing to lose at home.  You can see a confidence in everything they do.  Winning breeds confidence of course, but I also believe a little bit of confidence or swagger might do the Cubs some good as well.  Going back in a couple weeks to see the Reds when they come to town.  Will be interesting to see one of baseball’s biggest surprise up close and personal.

On a personal note, things have been crazy lately as I’ve been completely baby crazy.  Found out that my wife and I are having a little BOY come October.  A BOY.  So cool.  Can’t wait to take the little guy to Citi Field and experience the great game of baseball.  Of course a trip to Wrigley is on deck as soon as possible too.  Never too early to catch a game at the greatest park in all of baseball.  A wild summer of hoping for playoff baseball and figuring out how this baby stuff is going to work come October.

This Fall is going to be exciting regardless with the little guy on the way…but throw in some playoff baseball and never mind blowing my mind.  My head might explode.   Go Cubs Go!

2010 Cub Concerns: Head, Shoulders, Knees and ‘Tos

Head

Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol.  A couple of Carloses (Carlosi?)  that we need to worry about in the head category, the mental game.  Zambrano had an awful ’09 by Big Z standards.  Every from Hendry down to Ronnie Woo Woo thinks this year is going to be potentially the biggest of his career. Piniella’s gone as far as saying that Z could hit the 20 win mark in 2010.  Zambrano’s going to have to keep his head straight and lay off the meltdowns if 20 wins is going to be anywhere near Z’s future this season.  He’s projected to once again start Opening Day for the Cubs, a position he’s been horribly unsuccesful in when it comes to which flag ends up flying for the Cubs at Wrigley after doing so.  From Opening Day right on through September, if we’re going to have a chance of picking up the games necessary to catch the Cards and make the postseason, Zambrano has to keep his head on straight and lead the way.  Be the ace we pay you to be Z.  Lead the way.
 
And set the example for another guy in the head/mental concern category for 2010.  This is finally what Marmol has been waiting for.  After spending years proving himself out of the bullpen as the set up guy, this year, he’s the man.  The owner of the job of Cubs’ closer.  After losing out two years ago in an audition and then only being given the chance to take over for an ineffective, season poisoning pitcher in Kevin Gregg he has now been given the role he’s coveted.  Let’s hope his head stays where we need it to be.  Focused on the task at hand day in and day out and not overwhelmed by achieving a goal he’s had his sights on for years.  Sometimes when we get where we want to be, it’s hard to maintain that momentum and it isn’t always what we thought it would be.  I have no doubt being the Cubs closer will be all Marmol feels it’s cracked up to be…I just hope he kicks off the season right in roughly a month from now and keeps up that momentum through all of 2010.
 
Shoulders
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I’m a Lil’ worried about Ted Lilly.  He’s saying all the right things as is the organization.  He’s taking his time in getting back and no one expects him to be available come Opening Day.  Not only am I concerned about what we get in Ted when he does return, I’m concerned about what his absence does to our rotation.  Without Lilly as part of the Cubs’ five, we’re looking at Zambrano, Dempster, Wells and then two guys currently sharing the same name on the back of their jersey: TBD.  That doesn’t exactly bode well no matter how much Muskat wants to report that this is Samardzija’s year or that Gorzellany or Marshall or Silva may have enough to do their fair share while we wait for our most consistent pitcher to get back in pinstripes.  Ted Lilly’s shoulder needs to show up in 2010 at 100% because without Ted healthy, we have no shot at the playoffs this year.
 
Angel Guzman is another guy who has seen some down time recently due to soreness in his shoulder and the Cubs are going to look to him as potentially a strong part of the bullpen this year.  With Nady’s elbow working it’s way back through possibly new throwing mechanics from the outfield, you have to acknowledge that once you start throwing different than your body is used to, it could have a negative effect on other parts.  IE: his shoulder.  These three shoulders need to get healthy and be ready come Opening Day.
 
Knees
Really, the only knees I am extremely concerned about are those of our left fielder, Alfonso Soriano.  One day he is saying that he doesn’t feel his knee is where it needs to be considering how much time has passed since his surgery late last year.  Then the next day, suddenly, it’s not feeling so bad.  Well, which is it Sori?  Good?  Not so good?  Hopefully Piniella and the team doctors keep a real close eye on Alfonso this Spring.  The appropriate number of plate appearances to shake off that Winter dust is one thing.  Let’s not push him beyond that though.  He needs to be as healthy as possible to hold his own in the six hole this year and getting to any fly balls he can’t hop too or anything too far left of Byrd’s range in center.  Soriano’s contract is already putting a damper on financial flexibility.  His knees can’t suffer from any sort of damper in the flexibility category as well.
 
Tos
Our man Geo behind plate represents the ‘Tos for this rundown of concerns for ’10 heading into Spring Training.  If the Cubs were the cast of NBC’s The Biggest Loser, Soto’s off-season efforts would’ve taken home the grand prize.  40 pounds lighter and the desire to prove his sophomore slump was nothing but a fluke could spell an amazing 2010 for Soto!  A more serious attitude towards winning and staying in shape, less weed and perhaps less snacks led to Soto’s weight loss.  We need him in shape and turning that bat around on opposing pitchers’ fastballs quick like an athletic catcher and not our fat friend who we like so much we can’t tell him he can’t play, we just stick him behind the plate to play catcher so he doesn’t have to move too much.  From the time Soto saw folks at the Cubs Convention right through reports coming in from Spring Training, the word has been that Soto looks amazing and is going to bring it this year.  With the first games of Spring around the corner, I can’t wait to see what he looks like in action.
 
Lots of competition on the ball club this year in rounding out the bench and guys coming back from injuries and off years should make for a thrilling Spring Training.  Can’t wait to see Sori, Millar, Zambrano, Nady, Soto and what happens in the battle for second base.  
 
Spring Training is here as guys have started to report even earlier than necessary.  You have to love the ambition and commitment.  Add some health to the mix this year, and we could be talking Cubs baseball right into October in the present tense, not looking back like last year.
 
Wells to start the Cubs opener this Thursday against the A’s…Go Cubs Go!
 

‘Lil’ Worried

Anyone else concerned about Ted Lilly?

Our most consistent pitcher over the past few years has only begun throwing lightly after having arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder two months ago.  Hendry mentioned at the Cubs Convention today that Lilly is expected to be back by the third week of the regular season putting him on the mound end of April/first week of May.  Now, he’d only miss about four or five starts in that case, but I don’t know.  
I already don’t feel super confident in our starting rotation.  Not the way I did in ’07 and ’08.  Zambrano, Lilly, Dempster, Harden and Hill.  All healthy, on paper that just sounds solid.  Even when we were going into the first season of Dempster as a starter and Wood as our closer, it just felt like a decent experiment that would lead to a positive outcome.  Cut to ’10…Big Z, Dempster, Wells…Lilly after surgery and a number five guy that is completely up in the air.  
The organization is apparently interested in Contreras and going to take a look at Sheets.  I think Sheets will have an average season but his asking price is going to be too high for the Cubs budget and honestly, too high for what teams will get out of Sheets.  This isn’t Ben Sheets a couple of years ago.  This is Ben Sheets now.  And Contreras?  Can we rely on him to be a decent stop gap until Lilly is back?  Maybe?  And what about when Lilly comes back?  How will he perform?  Will he give us the kind of season we need out of Lilly in order to compete in the NL Central?  Without Lilly’s all-star worthy campaign and Lee’s unbelievable (out of nowhere) turn around in 2009, we would have finished in third or fourth place in the Central easily.  And now we have Lilly, arguably best as our number two pitcher, coming back from surgery on his pitching shoulder?  Yikes.  I don’t know.  Honestly, I’m a little worried.
One name I haven’t really heard thrown around a whole lot as an option in 2010 as a number four or five guy is Pedro Martinez.  He was phenomenal in the couple months that he gave the Phillies at the end of last season, including the playoffs.  I think he’s healthier and less risky than Sheets, has done more than Contreras and is a known warrior.  He comes to play every game he’s listed as the starting pitcher for the day and is amazing in the clubhouse.  He’s respected all over baseball and would add a lot to the chemistry and atmosphere among the ball club at Wrigley if brought over to the Cubs.  I was at Opening Day at Shea in 2005, Pedro’s first year with the Mets.  The place went insane when he was introduced.  I know this is five years later and he has a few seasons behind him on his downside, heading towards the end of his career.  However, there is just something about the fight in Pedro Martinez and what he brings that I believe is an option Hendry should be seriously considering.  Not sure where the Phillies stand regarding bringing Pedro back, but if they don’t want him, Hendry should make a call and an offer.  I just feel like Z, Demp, Lilly, Wells and Pedro would be a solid 1-5 and if any of them were to go down to injury or end up unable to perform for an expected stretch of time we still have significant five spot options already signed to wear Cub pinstripes in 2010.  
Something to think about.  I don’t know Contreras is the answer.  Not expecting Sheets.  Would be thrilled at the roll of the dice with Pedro.  Just a little worried about the rotation is all.  And by little, I mean very.  Anyone else?
Go Cubs Go!
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MLB Network 1, Cubs 0

So far this off-season the MLB Network has more key free-agent acquistions than the Cubs do. Patience will definitely be a virtue while we wait to find out what last names will be attached to Chicago’s favorite bags of laundry.

Hendry wasn’t able to do anything significant during the Winter Meetings but that doesn’t really surprise me.  The economy is horrible so everyone’s being careful about every move they make and the consequences those moves may have in the long term.  Also, there’s always those couple key free-agents that the dominos don’t get to fall until those pieces land where they may.  In the past couple years guys like Fukudome, Matszuaka and Johan Santana played the role. This year it’s Halladay, Lackey and arguably Bay.  We know that there are certain pieces we can expect to be there come Spring, but there are 266 free agents still out there looking for a new address.  Anything can happen and it’s going to keep the miserably cold winter extremely interesting this year.

Happy to see Miles and Heilman go.  Never was thrilled with Miles being a Cub, he had huge shoes to fill when he was the replacement piece for fan-favorite and capable utility man DeRosa.  Heilman is just a joke.  He came in with promise when he reached the Mets and then went on to contribute to the horrilbe state the Metropolitans have fallen to.  I live in NY and have seen a ton of Mets games and read a ton of Mets headlines.  Heilman is a disaster and we’re a better team without him.

That somewhat, in some round about way brings me to Castillo.  Luis Castillo is playing for the New York Mets.  I’d like to remind everyone of that.  IF a trade actually ends up going through, whether it’s for Bradley straight up or involving as many as twenty-something teams, IF the Cubs end up with Castillo, be disappointed.  This is not the Luis Castillo that played with Florida.  This is an older, slower, less effective Castillo and he will not do much in getting the Cubs to where they need to be.  Again, living in NY has given me plenty of opportunity to see Castillo let down Mets fans from all over and become the hot target of New York boo-birds.  The Mets last won the Series in ’86 and last appeared in it in 2000.  You think the Mets fans’ level of patience brought out a lot of boos and negative press?  Wait until the fans of the Cubs, waiting 100 years and counting in taking home the trophy, get their hands on an inempt second baseman like Castillo.  We’re far better off with the Fontenot-Baker tandem.  I would prefer to upgrade at second if we can, but Castillo is not the guy.

Love Ted Lilly but I’m a little concerned about how long it will take for him to be effective next year coming back from surgery.  I know we have more pressing needs than a back up plan to Lilly, but it would be great to see if Hendry could work out a deal somewhere that brings in a solid starter as insurance.  I like his confidence in the guys we have, but I’d feel more secure in our shot if we had one more quality guy with the experience and numbers to prove he can handle it. Even more so than Gorzelanny or Marshall can offer.

Congratulations to Peter Gammons, look forward to catching you on MLB Network.  Hoping the Cubs give us a few guys to look forward to catching as well.  Go Cubs Go!

Straight out of Central Casting

’07.

’08.
Oh no.  Two years of division titles in the Central for the Cubs and that is where it stops.  Cubs are hot lately but it’s too little, too late if you were hoping for a three-peat.  Cardinals beat the Rockies tonight in the ‘I really don’t want to root for either of these teams Bowl’ and clinched the NL Central.  They had the better season.  Their superstars had the better year.  Their pitchers stepped up and outperformed us.  Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals for taking the Central.
Now we’re looking at the Wild Card.  Granted, we’re looking at it with horrible seats but at least we got tickets.  A few teams are standing in our way of claiming the Wild Card and our down in front chants aren’t doing much in making a difference.  It hasn’t seemed to work in our favor this last month of the season no matter what we do.  It seems any time we pick up a game on the Rockies, so does everyone else.  And if we lose a game, well, they do too.  And the Rockies have pulled a ton of comeback wins out making our late season heroics attempts moot.  We’re not out of it yet and it’s becoming quite the final couple weeks of the season.  Don’t know that I’d use the word ‘wild’ to describe it, but at least the games still mean something anyway.  For three more games that is anyway, possibly less.
Our elimination number is down to 3.  Any combination of Rockies wins and Cub losses that add up to three and we’re done.  These few games against the Giants have been a blast.  I must admit, when I saw Zambrano v. Lincecum as the opposing pitchers the other night, I thought we were toast.  Figures that’s when Z steps up and delivers his best pitching performance since his no-hitter a year ago.  Also figures that while Lee has been on a tear, he just happens to be the guy on base in front of Baker, who just happens to hit a 2 run shot to win a ballgame in the ninth, who just happens to drive in Lee, who just happens to be the victim of an overzealous Guzman celebration, who just happens to hit Lee (not Baker, who actually hit the home run) and who just so happens to injure Lee’s neck while doing so causing him to miss a couple games.  And that my friends is what we call the Chicago Cubs.
I wish this team would continue to play all out while we aren’t mathematically eliminated but it has been nice seeing the young talent shine.  I understand being careful with guys for next year, but since we’re still in it…I guess since we’re still in it, it does bother me a little shutting down guys like Harden and being so careful with Lilly who’s been our star all year on the mound.  And in total contrast, if you’re giving up on the season and looking to next year and giving guys a bit of lighter workload, why are we allowing Dempster to push to try and reach 200 innings?  Who cares if Demp wants to hit 200?  You want to save him and make sure his arm doesn’t throw any unnecessary pitches in 2009 we could use in 2010…then allowing this push to 200 is something I just don’t get.  Gorzellany has been great and the lineups and results have been working in our favor, but really who would’ve thought that’d be the case.  I kind of feel like the organization gave up on the season too soon and have simply been lucky that the make shift line ups have come through the way they have.  
So here we are three games away from elimination.  Let’s just keep playing hard and see where the chips fall.  Central is no longer a possibility…but let’s keep pushing and see if we can somehow make our way down front and capture the wild card.  Never know.  Right Yogi?  
Wells up again tomorrow.  Do your thing Wells and get that W.  Go Cubs Go!

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