I hope everyone had a happy, healthy and safe holiday season. Now that the holidays are out of the way, we can get into a groove as we take a look back on the 2003 season. To recap, when last we checked in the Cubs were wrapping up a 13 game road trip. They actually won eight games on the four city trip and they were coming back home with a 28-21 record and a 1½-game lead in the division. They’d return home for 12 games. Today, we’ll look at the first six games of that homestand.
Game 50, May 26: Cubs 0, Pirates 10 (28-22)
Phil Norton was drafted by the Cubs in the 10th round of the 1996 MLB draft out of Texarkana College. Having played his high school ball in Texarkana as well, Phil stayed local for college. But he parleyed it into getting drafted and then in 2000 he made his big league debut with the Cubs, pitching in two games. In 2003, he pitched in four more games with the Cubs before going to the Reds in a minor trade. In the six games Phil pitched for the Cubs, he compiled an 8.25 ERA in just 12 innings of work. He pitched in 86 games in little over a season for the Reds and never pitched in the majors again.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Kerry Wood (.250). This registers as a minor shock in a 10-0 game. However, little of that was Kerry’s responsibility. He threw seven innings and allowed only one hit and four walks. He did allow one run, which was enough to get him the loss. He struck out 10.
- Hero: Damian Miller (.015). His biggest accomplishment was probably catching seven innings of one hit, 10 strikeout baseball. But he did also have a hit on a day when the Cubs managed only five of them.
- Sidekick: Todd Wellemeyer (.000). I broke a three way tie to give this spot to Wellemeyer who threw a scoreless inning, recording three strikeouts and allowing just one hit.
- Billy Goat: Phil Norton (-.123). Norton allowed a hit and a walk to the only two batters he faced. Both scored.
- Goat: Tom Goodwin (-.120). Tom was hitless in four at bats including a strikeout and grounding into a double play. Tom grounded into 44 double plays in 4315 career plate appearances, so that was a bit of an unusual occurrence for the speedster.
- Kid: Juan Cruz (-.118). Juan followed Norton into the game in the eighth. Phil had allowed a walk and a single. Cruz was then brought in. He allowed a stolen base, hit a batter, walked another, then allowed a single and a walk before departing. At that point, the score was 4-0, he’d allowed two inherited runners to score and then one of his own. He ended up allowing four runs of his own after Antonio Alfonseca came in and allowed all three runners he inherited to score.
Game 51, May 27: Cubs 4, Pirates 9 (28-23)
Mark Grudzielanek got 110 plate appearances in May 2003. In those, he had a .297/.355/.366 line (wRC+ 93). That line was propped by a .370 BABIP. He scored 11 runs and drove in three. He stole a base and was caught stealing twice. He had seven doubles among his 30 hits.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Eric Karros (.063). Eric had just one hit in four at bats, but that hit was a two-run homer.
- Hero: Alex Gonzalez (.013). Alex had one hit in three at bats.
- Sidekick: Moises Alou (.010). Moises had a hit and a walk in his four plate appearances.
- Billy Goat: Matt Clement (-.350). Clement had a clunker of a game, allowing nine hits, two walks and seven runs in five innings of work. He only struck out two.
- Goat: Mark Grudzielanek (-.050). Mark was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.
- Kid: Corey Patterson (-.046). Patterson also had one hit in four at bats including a two-run homer. The difference? It was 9-2 in the ninth when Corey hit his (it was 5-0 in the fourth when Eric hit his).
Game 52, May 28: Cubs 5, Pirates 4 (29-23)
Joe Borowski didn’t get a ton of work in May of 2003, making just 11 appearances. However, he made the most of it when he did work. He was 1-0 with six saves in 12⅓ innings of work. He struck out 12 and only walked four. He allowed eight hits and two runs, good for a 1.46 ERA (2.06 FIP).
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Damian Miller (.273). An unusual name at the top in Miller, but with the Cubs down 2-0 early in this one, Damian slugged a three-run homer in the bottom of the second. It was his only hit in three at bats.
- Hero: Joe Borowski (.165). Joe worked around a single and a walk to notch the save. He struck out one.
- Sidekick: Alex Gonzalez (.109). Alex had a two-run homer in the fourth inning as two of the least productive regulars powered the offense. This was his only hit in three at bats.
- Billy Goat: Tom Goodwin (-.060). Tom was hitless in four at bats with a strike out.
- Goat: Corey Patterson (-.044). Patterson was also hitless in his four at bats.
- Kid: Mark Grudzielanek (-.028). Mark reached once in four plate appearances, via a walk. The Cubs mustered only five hits and a walk, but because of the two homers manged five runs.
Game 53, May 30: Cubs 1, Astros 9 (29-24)
This game is one of the first I’ve looked at where there were essentially no heroes. The Cubs didn’t have anyone reach base until the third inning (after they were already losing 1-0). That runner was sacrificed to second (which actually counts as a negative event) and then the runner was picked off of second, thus turning the positive to a negative for the hit. The Astros then added four runs in the fourth inning. The Cubs were retired in order and then allowed four more runs in the fifth. That left most of the rest of the game at or near .000 for any event. Corey Patterson’s solo homer that gave the Cubs their only run in the fifth was worth just .005. And so it is that I broke a three way tie at .000 for the top three spots.
- Superhero: Kyle Farnsworth (.000). Kyle struck out the side in a scoreless eighth inning. Certainly a strong enough performance landed here.
- Hero: Antonio Alfonseca (.000). Alfonseca worked a clean inning in the ninth to notch the second spot.
- Sidekick: Troy O’Leary (.000). Sammy Sosa returned to the lineup for the first time since May 9, sending Troy back to the bench. He took over Moises Alou in the blowout and got one at bat but didn’t reach base.
- Billy Goat: Shawn Estes (-.279). Once again Estes cost the Cubs any real chance of winning. He threw 4⅓ innings and allowed seven hits, three walks and nine runs (eight earned). The 2003 Cubs were the closest the Cubs got to the World Series prior to Theo Epstein coming to town and they got 28 starts out of a pitcher with a 5.73 ERA over 152⅓ innings of work.
- Goat: Mark Grudzielanek (-.037). Mark was hitless in four at bats with a strike out.
- Kid: Moises Alou/Lenny Harris (-.028). Both were officially hitless in two at bats. Alou left after his two. Harris did draw a walk, but not until the eighth inning.
Game 54, May 31: Cubs 1, Astros 0 (30-24)
Carlos Zambrano was just what the doctor ordered after an Estes clunker. He recorded an 80 game score, just a few starts after recording an 84. For the month of May, he was 2-2 with a 2.74 ERA (3.43 FIP). He threw 42⅔ innings across six starts. He allowed only 32 hits, 17 walks and 14 runs (13 earned. He struck out 33. Carlos was really starting to put things together and giving the Cubs a three headed monster with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior at the top.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Carlos Zambrano (.556). The sixth highest WPA score of the year for the Cubs. Carlos threw eight shutout innings allowing three hits and three walks. He struck out four. He and opposing starter Roy Oswalt, who was also superb, were long gone before the Cubs scored the game’s lone run in the 16th.
- Hero/Sidekick: Joe Borowski/Kyle Farnsworth/Todd Wellemeyer (.280). Borowski was first, throwing scoreless 11th and 12th innings. He allowed one hit and struck out two. Farnsworth then carried the torch. He allowed a hit and two walks. He struck out three. Wellemeyer followed with the final two innings. His were two perfect innings including four strikeouts. He recorded the win after the Cubs scored in the 16th.
- Billy Goat: Mark Grudzielanek (-.332). Mark had just one hit in seven at bats. He struck out three times.
- Goat: Moises Alou (-.244). Alou had one hit in six at bats. He struck out once.
- Kid: Damian Miller (-.207). This game was actually started by Paul Bako. But Miller came in late, had three at bats and struck out three times. The Cubs struck out 23 times in this one, led by Sammy Sosa striking out five times before driving in the winning run in his seventh at bat (one of four five strikeout games in Sammy’s career).
Game 55, June 1: Cubs 3, Astros 9 (30-25)
Ramon Martinez was 30 years old and in his first year with the Cubs in 2003. He played in 108 games that year, playing all four infield positions. The only year in his career in which he appeared in more games was in 2001 with the Giants, another team managed by Dusty Baker. Ramon actually was a very strong contributor for the Cubs in ‘03, for a backup infielder anyway. In 333 plate appearances, he had a line of .283/.333/.375 (OPS+ 84). Ramon didn’t actually grade out all that bad as a shortstop defensively that year, but was well below average at second and third. But his numbers got much worse after he left the Cubs following the 2004 season, particularly when he played third base.
Three Heroes/Three Goats:
- Superhero: Eric Karros (.069). Eric had two hits in four at bats including a two-run homer in the seventh inning that cut the Cubs deficit to 5-3.
- Hero: Tom Goodwin (.035). Tom had one at bat. He singled, moved to second on a balk and stole third before scoring on an Alex Gonzalez single.
- Sidekick: Ramon Martinez (.026). Martinez had one hit in three at bats.
- Billy Goat: Kerry Wood (-.220). Wood couldn’t carry Zambrano’s momentum forward. He allowed six hits, three walks and five runs in six innings of work. He did strike out 11.
- Goat: Damian Miller (-.121). Damian was hitless with a strikeout in his four at bats.
- Kid: Mike Remlinger (-.107). Mike didn’t do any better than Wood. He threw two innings and allowed three hits, two walks and three runs. He allowed two home runs. He did strikeout three.
After coming home for a 12 game homestand with a 28-21 record and a 1½-game lead in the division, the Cubs were looking to build on those numbers. Instead, they dropped four of six to start the homestand. Their division lead actually got as high as two games with the 16 inning win. But then dropped back to just one with the subsequent loss. An off day would follow and then interleague play would start with three game against the then-Devil Rays (managed by Lou Piniella) and the Yankees. Things were not looking great for the homestand. Next time, we’ll check in on how they fared over those six games.
Despite the negative results, we did have some interesting things to look at this week. A game with no positive WPA Cubs? Check! That one was followed by eight shutout innings by a starter that produced one of the highest WPA scores of the season by a Cub (and yet that game still went 16 innings!)
That Sammy Sosa injury? The Cubs played 17 games without their offensive star. But they won the first five and six of seven without him on their way to a 10-7 record over those 17 games.
What does it look like when your fifth starter digs a giant hole every time out? And yet, this was a team carried by its starting pitching. It was an interesting season to be sure.
Thank you for your patience during a busy holiday season. Now that we are past that, things should pick up some momentum. Until next time, thanks for reading!