Thursday, July 12, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #25 Marc Pisciotta

25. Marc Pisciotta
Marc Pisciotta's baseball fame started well before he made the major leagues. In 1983, at age "12" he led East Marietta, Georgia to a Little League World Series. I put that age in quotation marks, because the dude was 6'2" at that age and blowing away everyone he faced. I know baseball loves to question the ages of people from Latin America, but the 70s and 80s were a crazy time in this country, and Pisciotta likely bought his entire team beers after the game.

Fast forward 14 years, and Pisciotta made his major league debut for the Cubs in 1997 where he pitched quite well out of the bullpen, accumulating a 3.18 ERA while throwing 28.1 innings. With that performance, he guaranteed himself a spot in the big league bullpen for 1998, and to start the year, he did not disappoint. He didn't allow a run in his first five appearances and carried a 1.53 ERA towards the end of April. He was taking high leverage innings and delivering when it mattered.

Unfortunately, April 30th became a turning point for Pisciotta as he was able to get Royce Clayton out before walking Delino DeShields. That led to Mark McGwire coming up and destroying a pitch and raising Pisciotta's ERA almost a full run in the process.

May was not kind to Pisciotta as even though he wasn't awful, he had a few bad outings that led to his ERA ending the month at 4.34. But just when it looked like the wheels might be falling off, he rebounded to put up a good June and lower his ERA to 3.70 at the end of the month. This made him arguably the Cubs third most effective reliever through the first half of the season.

But July started off poorly for Pisciotta. On July 4, he gave up a solo home run to Al Martin in an inning of work. On July 9, the Brewers were able to manufacture a run off a couple singles, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly off of Pisciotta, but Pisciotta pitched 1.2 innings, so it barely raised his ERA from 3.83 to 3.89. Pisciotta came in again on July 11 with an inherited runner and gave up an infield single to Jeff Cirillo before immediately being replaced. Cirillo would go on to score which would raise his ERA to a very average 4.09 in 44 innings of work.

Despite the Cubs getting some truly awful performances from their bullpen, this was enough for the Cubs to send Pisciotta to Triple-A Iowa to work on his pitching. And one particular decision was followed by an even more peculiar result. Pisciotta completely self-imploded at Iowa. He put up a 6.46 ERA in Des Moines, and obviously, that was not impressive enough for him to get another shot in Chicago.

The Cubs released him before the 1999 season and he signed with the Royals. He did pitching 8.1 innings in 1999 but gave up 8 runs and would never see the major leagues again, retiring from baseball in 2000.

Marc Pisciotta may be one of the most curious stories on this list. You could make the argument that he was the Cubs third best reliever that year, and yet he got sent down and was never able to pitch effectively again. Still, he manged to be an average reliever for the Cubs for over half a season, and compared to the other guys that I have already covered on this list, that makes him extraordinary.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #26 Manny Alexander

26. Manny Alexander
Let's start with the positive: Manny Alexander managed to play 11 seasons over 15 years, specializing exclusively as a backup infielder. That is an impressive run for anyone, and even though he was never a consistent starter, that is still an extensive career to be proud of. Congratulations, Manny.

Manny got his most playing time in 1998, playing in 108 games and accumulating 289 plate appearances for the Cubs. He played 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and DH where he started twice. You may say that Jim Riggleman was an idiot for starting him at DH twice, but in those games, he hit .375 with a double a two RBI. This is why I will still defend Riggleman as a great manager, because no matter how stupid and ill-advised the move was, it somehow worked out for him, and when I was a child, I cared way more about the result than the totally convoluted process. But as you'll learn, not all of Riggleman's decisions involving Manny Alexander worked out that well.

He was not bad throughout the entire season. In fact, he got off to a great start. At the end of the first month of the season, he was slugging 1.000. Yes, the month was March, and it was one game where he had one at bat, but NUMBERS DON'T LIE.

But even at the end of April, he was still hitting incredibly well in part-time duty with a slash line of .360/.385/.520. He only started four games during that time, but he did far more than the Cubs could have hoped for. But then the Cubs pressed their luck. The Cubs began started him 25 times in the months of May and June, and his numbers dropped to a much more Manny Alexander-esque .252/.291/.367.

It was understandable that Alexander got some time at short, because Jeff Blauser was also a bit of a trainwreck that season and Jose Hernandez had to fill in at third base since Kevin Orie was such a trainwreck that he was traded in the middle of the season. But Alexander also got starts at second and third where Hernandez was doing well, and Mickey Morandini was freaking fantastic that year. Still, Alexander kept getting starts, and his numbers kept dropping. He would finish the year at an abysmal .227/.278/.330. If he had enough at bats to qualify, he would have been the second worst hitter in the majors (suck it, Rey Ordonez).

On the positive side, the Cubs were 4-1 when Manny Alexander hit a home run. The Cubs must have been counting on that great home run luck, because somehow, someway, Manny Alexander started a playoff game for the Cubs. Instead of getting extra offense from Jose Hernandez, they had Manny Alexander out there, going 0-4 in a game the Cubs would lose 2-1 in ten innings. That game is going to get a much more detailed breakdown later on.

After 1998, he would spend one more year with the Cubs before being traded to the Red Sox for Damon Buford. He'd bounce around to the Rangers and Padres before finally retiring from MLB in 2006. He did have a stint a couple years later where he tore it up in the Italian League, so good for him.

Manny Alexander wasn't great for any team that he played for, but it's not fair to request greatness from Alexander. He was still a big part of that 1998 team; they were so incredibly flawed that it just added to the fun. You can't say Manny was only part of the bad, because the bad is what made this team so enjoyable. They had no business being there, but they were still there, much like two games where Manny Alexander played DH. Somehow, things worked out in both cases.

In case you missed it:
Introduction
#47 - Matt Karchner
#46 - Jose Nieves
#45 - Rodney Myers
#44 - Justin Speier
#43 - Tony Fossas
#42 - Kennie Steenstra
#41 - Chris Haney
#40 - Bob Patterson

#39 - Pedro Valdes

#38 - Derrick White
#37 - Ben Van Ryn
#36 - Terrell Lowery
#35 - Don Wengert
#34 - Kurt Miller
#33 - Jason Maxwell
#32 - Kevin Foster
#31 - Mike Morgan
#30 - Felix Heredia 

#29 - Jeff Blauser

#28 - Jason Hardtke

#27 - Dave Stevens

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #27 Dave Stevens

27. Dave Stevens
To begin 1998, Dave Stevens was the hottest fire of the Cubs bullpen. He made his first appearance on June 21st and did not give up a run in his first seven appearances. Even when Jeff Cirillo knocked in a run against Stevens, it only raised his ERA to 1.12. And sure, the man would have some rough outings here or there, but going into August 7th, Stevens ERA was an even 2.00.

And then the Cardinals broke his magical spell. Now, to be fair, the Cardinals bats were at least slightly warm that day, if not downright hot. Steve Trachsel gave up nine runs while recording just one out (suck it, Ron Gant). Dave Stevens came in to clean up the mess, but he would go on to walk Brian Jordan before giving up a home run to Ray Lankford in the inning. He struggled through 3.2 innings, his longest outing of the year and would later give up a home run to Ron Gant (sorry about telling you to suck it, Mr. Gant). His ERA nearly doubled as it went up to 3.74 that day.

He did manage to keep his ERA around that very respectable number and on September 1st, he had his ERA at a very solid 3.60. But things fell apart for him down the stretch. He pitched in four games for a total of six innings, while giving up seven runs during that time. The most heartbreaking was when he came in to a tie game in the bottom of the 10th against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Jason Kendall launched a game winning walk-off home run. The Cubs stopped pitching Stevens by the middle of the month; his ERA still rose over a full run to 4.74 during the month.

For two months, Dave Stevens was a good reliever when the Cubs desperately needed one, and sure, it all fell apart after that, but he did have some good times. He was done in the majors shortly after his time with the Cubs following brief stints with the Cleveland Indians in 1999 and the Atlanta Braves in 2000. He did manage to play another year in the minor leagues before taking a break from baseball before trying to get back at it through indy ball in 2004, but just like in 1998, it was not in the Cards.

In case you missed it:
Introduction
#47 - Matt Karchner
#46 - Jose Nieves
#45 - Rodney Myers
#44 - Justin Speier
#43 - Tony Fossas
#42 - Kennie Steenstra
#41 - Chris Haney
#40 - Bob Patterson

#39 - Pedro Valdes

#38 - Derrick White
#37 - Ben Van Ryn
#36 - Terrell Lowery
#35 - Don Wengert
#34 - Kurt Miller
#33 - Jason Maxwell
#32 - Kevin Foster
#31 - Mike Morgan
#30 - Felix Heredia 

#29 - Jeff Blauser

#28 - Jason Hardtke

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #28 Jason Hardtke

28. Jason Hardtke
Jason Hardtke was a utility infielder who didn't quite have the skills to play shortstop. The latter part of that sentence really limited Hardtke's potential. Had he been able to play shortstop, he may have gotten more of a chance to prove himself at the major league level. Unfortunately, Hardtke's time in the big show was sporadic and limited.

1998 was Hardtke's third straight season with major league experience, the first two with the New York Mets. He spent the majority of the year at AAA, playing for the Iowa Cubs where he sprayed the ball all over the field with a .288/.361/.453 line.

His time in Chicago was less impressive as he failed to record a single extra base hit leading to a very empty .238 average. And although he only had two RBI on the season, he used one of those to make a huge impact.

The Cubs were in a battle with the Florida Marlins. Legendary aces Mark Clark and Brian Meadows were having one of their world-famous pitching duels. The Marlins broke through in the fourth inning when perennial All-Star snub, Todd Dunwoody, led off the inning with a double before Cliff Floyd knocked him in for a one-run lead.

The Cubs refused to go down easy as in the sixth inning, Cubs legend, Brant Brown, took Meadows deep to tie the game. After that, the runs stopped as each starter lasted eight innings while giving up just a single run. The Cubs turned to Terry Adams who immediately walked Gregg Zaun to start off the inning. Craig Counsell bunted Zaun over to second base to put a runner in scoring position with just one out. The Marlins turned to pinch hitter Ryan Jackson, but he was no match for Adams as he struck out in his lone at bat. Still, this led to Dunwoody. Somehow, possibly by an act of God, Adams induced a ground out from the Marlins stud.

This led to the bottom of the ninth. Felix Heredia was tasked with taking over for Meadows. He wasted no time in making the home town crowd sweat when he struck out early game hero, Brant Brown, with a pitch that froze him with nothing but a bat on his shoulder and a look of dejection in his eyes. But things turned around with the next batter as Mickey Morandini managed an infield hit. This was followed by the big slugger, Sammy Sosa, improbably also getting an infield hit. The Marlins chose not to challenge Mark Grace and intentionally walked the bases loaded instead.

The Cubs sent Terrell Lowery up to the plate, but the Marlins countered with stud reliever, Jay Powell. This led the Cubs to counter the counter and send up who? You guessed it, Jason Hardtke, up to the plate. In what was surely a battle for the ages, Hardtke eventually got the better of Powell as he singled up the middle to drive home the winning run.

Hardtke played about six more weeks before the Cubs sent him back to Iowa. He would never make the major leagues again. Hardtke is an example of when a stat line doesn't tell the whole story. Clutch may or may not be a real thing, but when the Cubs needed him, Hardtke came through when it mattered most. In a year where the Cubs needed every win they could get, it's important to remember the contributions of guys like Hardtke that helped lead to such a magical season.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #29 Jeff Blauser

29. Jeff Blauser
Coming into 1998, expectations for Jeff Blauser were incredibly high. He just had his best season as a pro, putting up a .308/.405/.482 line for the Atlanta Braves in 1997, becoming an All-Star and winning the NL Silver Slugger award in the process. The Cubs signed Blauser as a free agent to help remake their middle infield along with Mickey Morandini. Maybe the front office remembered his performance in 1992 when he hit three home runs at Wrigley Field.


Unfortunately, Jeff Blauser did not live up to his end of the bargain. He hit .219/.340/.299 with a grand total of two home runs on the season, and there were very few highlights to find during this season. He only had three games where he had more than one RBI. The most exciting performance was on July 5th against the Pittsburgh Pirates where Blauser went 3-4 with two runs scored and two RBI. He helped spark a rally where the Cubs completed a four-run comeback with a five-run eighth where Blauser knocked in two runs with a double and would score the deciding run in the game.

His biggest contribution was against his former team in the playoffs. In the 10th inning of a tie game, the Cubs had two men on with just one out. The Cubs sent Henry Rodriguez out there to pinch hit, but the Braves countered by bringing in lefty Odalis Perez. Despite the Cubs having Jose Hernandez, a man who could actually hit, sitting on the bench, Jim Riggleman went with Jeff Blauser. This decision looked like it would pay off for the Cubs when Glenallen Hill stole third base. If there was one thing Blauser could do, it was put the ball in play. Blauser worked it to a full count. Morandini ran on the decisive pitch, and Blauser struck out while Morandini was caught stealing to end the Cubs' chances at scoring. The Braves would go on to score in the bottom of the tenth. Was Jeff Blauser a sleeper agent? No, I think he just got really bad at baseball.

He stuck around the Cubs for another unimpressive year in before retiring after the 1999 season. He was a noted Cubs killer during his time with the Braves, and he kept that moniker while playing in Chicago. But at least people in Atlanta really like him and his elegant home.

In case you missed it:
Introduction
#47 - Matt Karchner
#46 - Jose Nieves
#45 - Rodney Myers
#44 - Justin Speier
#43 - Tony Fossas
#42 - Kennie Steenstra
#41 - Chris Haney
#40 - Bob Patterson

#39 - Pedro Valdes

#38 - Derrick White
#37 - Ben Van Ryn
#36 - Terrell Lowery
#35 - Don Wengert
#34 - Kurt Miller
#33 - Jason Maxwell

#32 - Kevin Foster

#31 - Mike Morgan

#30 - Felix Heredia 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #30 Felix Heredia

30. Felix Heredia
When it comes to Felix Heredia, I can't separate him from the heartbreaking trade that got him here. As I have probably mentioned a couple dozen times by now, the Cubs bullpen was absolutely terrible. At the trade deadline, the Cubs had to do anything they could to make things happen in the bullpen. So they traded one of my favorite Cubs, Kevin Orie (along with Justin Speier) in order to acquire Felix Heredia.

I was heartbroken. I loved Orie, despite him somehow performing worse than the Cubs bullpen did in 1998, I still believed. And to only get Heredia in return? A guy with an abysmal 5.49 ERA? How could the Cubs do this to me?

As bad as I thought the trade was, the Cubs needed to do anything they could to help the bullpen, and Kevin Orie was not going to help that team in 1998. In August, Heredia's first month with the team, he was doing everything he could to make me hate him. On August 27, his ERA rose to 6.97, and I cursed him every time he entered the game.

Somehow, on August 28, he turned things around. His ERA went down to 6.75, then 6.55, 6.35, and it just kept dropping. He had 15 appearances over the next month and didn't allow a single run, dropping his ERA to a totally acceptable 4.08. He even gave the Cubs a scoreless 1/3 of an inning in the playoff elimination game against the Giants. He was the hottest relief arm on the Cubs staff.

So it was no surprise when he came in during Game 1 of the NLDS with a runner on and no outs and the Cubs down by just two runs. He manged to get an out on a failed bunt attempt before walking the next two batters. After the bases were loaded, the Cubs went to trusted relief specialist, Matt Karchner, who promptly gave up a grand slam. The Cubs would not come back to win that game, and Heredia would not pitch again in the playoffs.

Heredia would never relive that September magic but stayed with the Cubs for three more years of painful performances where he recorded 4.85, 4.76, and 6.17 ERAs. The Cubs sent him to the Blue Jays in 2002 in a trade for Alex Gonzalez and managed a 3.61 ERA. Then, he was even better in 2003, putting up a 3.00 ERA for the Reds before being traded to the Yankees and putting up a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings while striking out 2.4 batters per 9 innings.

It rightfully fell apart in 2004 where his ERA was back over 6.00, and then he would pitch just 2.2 innings after that year before bouncing around the minors and various international leagues until 2008 when he retired. Although he came up known as El Gato Flaco, The Skinny Cat, he ended his career with a different nickname, The Run Fairy. He wasn't bad enough to truly earn that nickname, and he was definitely better than this low of a spot on this list, but much like I learned when the Cubs traded away Kevin Orie, life isn't fair sometimes.

In case you missed it:
Introduction
#47 - Matt Karchner
#46 - Jose Nieves
#45 - Rodney Myers
#44 - Justin Speier
#43 - Tony Fossas
#42 - Kennie Steenstra
#41 - Chris Haney
#40 - Bob Patterson

#39 - Pedro Valdes

#38 - Derrick White
#37 - Ben Van Ryn
#36 - Terrell Lowery
#35 - Don Wengert
#34 - Kurt Miller
#33 - Jason Maxwell

#32 - Kevin Foster

#31 - Mike Morgan

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #31 Mike Morgan

31. Mike Morgan
Mike Morgan may not go down as an incredible baseball player, but he had an incredible career. He was drafted out of high school fourth overall, and he was in the major leagues later that year. He would go on to pitch 22 seasons in the major leagues, although it took him 25 years as he spent some of his early years strictly playing in the minors. Now his numbers were pedestrian for nearly the entirety of his career, but pitching over four separate decades is beyond incredible.

During his time, he pitched for 12 different teams, but the Cubs got more of his time than any other team as he spent five separate seasons with the team. His original run went from 1992-1995 before the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for Todd Zeile.

In 1998, the Cubs were in the hunt, but the trade deadline had come and gone with the Cubs still not solving their pitching issues. At least this time, they were looking to solve for starting pitching instead of relief. Luckily, players could still be traded if they passed through waivers. So the Cubs sent Scott Downs to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for 38-year-old, Mike Morgan. Morgan was having one of his best years as he had a 3.49 ERA in 98 innings as a starter. More incredibly, despite starting 17 games, his record was just 4-2. That level of no-decisions is amazing.

Morgan would start five times for the Cubs down the stretch and put up an ERA of 7.15. The Cubs record in those games? 4-1, somehow. Every game but one of those was decided by a single run. The game that wasn't ended on a 3-run walk-off home run. His best outing was when he pitched six innings and gave up just two runs to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the only game the Cubs lost. Baseball is weird.

He would move on to the bullpen during the playoffs where he had two scoreless appearances where he was trusted to finish out those games. Yes, they were both losses (they were all losses), but at least Morgan got some time out there. It took him 20 years, but he finally was able to pitch in a playoff game.

Morgan would go on to pitch four more years with the highlight of winning a World Series Championship with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. I guess good things do happen to those who wait.

In case you missed it:
Introduction
#47 - Matt Karchner
#46 - Jose Nieves
#45 - Rodney Myers
#44 - Justin Speier
#43 - Tony Fossas
#42 - Kennie Steenstra
#41 - Chris Haney
#40 - Bob Patterson

#39 - Pedro Valdes

#38 - Derrick White
#37 - Ben Van Ryn
#36 - Terrell Lowery
#35 - Don Wengert

#34 - Kurt Miller

#33 - Jason Maxwell

#32 - Kevin Foster

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The 47 Best Players from the 1998 Chicago Cubs - #32 Kevin Foster

32. Kevin Foster
This is one where 1998 contributions get a little fuzzy. Since I'm not actually judging based on performance but how they made me feel, it's impossible for me to not include feelings that carried over from past seasons. Kevin Foster, based on 1998, could have arguably been ranked last on this list. Instead, he's much higher, because I really freaking liked Kevin Foster.

Foster was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos as an infielder. He struggled for three years at the plate before the Expos decided to see if he could make it as a pitcher. Although the transition started off a little rough, by his second year on the mound, Foster showed his potential with a  2.74 ERA and over a strikeout per inning in A-ball.

After that, he progressed through the minors, got traded to the Mariners and then to the Phillies who he made a couple appearances for at the end of the the 1993 season and put up a 14.85 ERA. That was enough for the Phillies to trade him to the Cubs in exchange for Shawn Boskie.

In 1994, this trade looked like a massive steal for the Cubs. He came up on June 3rd and threw seven shutout innings against the Expos, who were really freaking good that year. His ERA would never rise above 3.15 and would end that year at 2.89 when the strike cut short the season. He had 8.3 strikeouts per inning, which may not sound too impressive these days but would have eighth in the major leagues if he had enough innings to qualify, just two spots behind a little pitcher from Montreal named Pedro Martinez.

But that would go down as his best season. After that, Foster was plagued with the long ball as his home run rate over doubled the following season, and he would lead the league in home runs allowed. He still had a acceptable 4.51 ERA. The wheels came off in 1996 when he put up an ERA over 6.00, but he bounced back a little in 1997 with a 4.61 ERA.

In 1998, he started the year off in the minor leagues but was called up before a June 9th game to try to help out the bullpen. It did not work out as he gave up two runs in two innings in his first outing. He bounced back for a scoreless outing his second time on the mound, and everything fell apart for him in the third outing as he gave up four hits without recording an out and all four runners would go on to score. The Cubs sent him down to AAA after that, but even there he couldn't put things back together as he had an ERA over 6.00. He would not see the Major Leagues for another three years when he got a brief chance with the Texas Rangers, and then would go on to play a couple years in independent ball before calling it quits.

Unfortunately, the story gets sadder from there. Kevin Foster was diagnosed with renal cancer and passed away in 2008 at the age of 39.

Kevin Foster was a fun guy to watch, and he always flashed just enough that you thought the magic of that 1994 season might come back at any time. In the 1990s, all Cubs fans had was hope, and Foster gave us a reason that a brighter future was attainable. He may have not been the guy in 1998, but he showed enough before that to keep us hanging on to hope for a brighter future, and for that, I will never forget his contributions to the team.

In case you missed it:
Introduction
#47 - Matt Karchner
#46 - Jose Nieves
#45 - Rodney Myers
#44 - Justin Speier
#43 - Tony Fossas
#42 - Kennie Steenstra
#41 - Chris Haney
#40 - Bob Patterson

#39 - Pedro Valdes

#38 - Derrick White
#37 - Ben Van Ryn
#36 - Terrell Lowery
#35 - Don Wengert

#34 - Kurt Miller

#33 - Jason Maxwell