Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cubs Start Fast in '69 Replay

With a doubleheader sweep over the expansion Expos, the Cubs improved to 10-3 on the season in an APBA baseball game replay of Chicago's 1969 season.

In the opener, the Cubs "exploded" for 9 runs on 10 hits in the sixth inning, knocking out Montreal starter Carl Morton and propelling Fergie Jenkins to his third victory of the season. The Cubs won 12-1, despite only one extra-base hit, a double by Ron Santo.

1969 Topps Team Poster
Equally indicative of the Cubs' season so far, Chicago rallied for a 6-3 victory in the nightcap, scoring 5 runs in the top of the seventh on three singles, three walks and a hit batsman.

So far, the Cubbies have hit a grand total of three home runs, two by reserve outfielder Willy Smith and one by Billy Williams. Williams is hitting .294 with 10 RBI; Santo has scored 8 runs and driven in 8; and catcher Randy Hundley leads the regulars in hitting at .359, with 7 RBI.

What the Cubs lack in hitting they've more than made up in pitching, with a team ERA of 2.17! In addition to Jenkins, Cubs' starters Bill Hands, Ken Holtzman and Joe Niekro all have a pair of wins. They've also tossed 6 complete games and a shutout.

Chicago has had just enough hitting to win half their games by one or two runs. Among the highlights:

  • A 3-1 win on opening day, featuring a complete game by Jenkins and a two-run double by Williams.
  • A 1-0 win by Jenkins to extend the Cubs season-opening win streak to 5 games. Santo drove in the winning run in the bottom of the first, after a double by Williams.
  • A 5-4 victory over the Pirates on a two-out, three-run home run by Smith in the bottom of the eighth inning. 
  • A 3-2 extra-inning win by Holtzman, who went all 10 innings. The Cubs tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the ninth on doubles by Glenn Beckert and Santo. They took the lead in the 10th on a leadoff walk by rookie Oscar Gamble, who scooted all the way to third on a sacrifice bunt by Holtzman. Don Kessinger drove him in with a sacrifice fly to right field. 

Following on the heels of my replay of the Milwaukee Brewers' 2008 campaign, I'm already seeing some significant differences, even though both squads posted 90-win seasons.

While the Brewers bashed 198 homers and stole 158 bases, the Cubs rely on a steadier offense throughout the lineup, stringing together singles and walks and counting on their superior starting pitching to keep games close. The Cubs aren't slow -- except for Santo -- but they've amassed all of three stolen bases in 13 games.

In contrast to Milwaukee's feast-or-famine attack and a maddening number of strikeouts, the Cubs so far have been in every game, and always seem to have runners on base. It challenges the manager's patience from time to time, however, as the Cubs often go three, four and five innings in a row with base runners but can't string together enough walks and singles to tally a score. But I'll get over it.

Replay Notes: I'm using the 1969 reprint set, so I've got every player who stepped to the plate or the mound that season. Along with the Cubs actual starting pitchers, I'm using opponents' real lineups, paying attention to trades and injuries for home and away teams.

With so many players available, I'm limiting Cubs batters to 102 percent of their actual plate appearances. Likewise, for pitchers I'm sticking to their actual games started and 102 percent of actual innings for relievers.

Frustrated by the lack of singles -- and lower batting averages -- in my Brewers' replay, I took Kevin Burghardt's suggestion on the APBA Baseball Facebook page of turning a 65-35 into a single when the bases are empty. I'm hoping this also will compensate for my tendency to always put in the opponent's top-rated reliever, even when he probably wan't always available in "real life."

Finally, I couldn't resist tweaking the schedule, throwing in a smattering of inter-league games, including a home-and-home series against the cross-town rival White Sox.

Anyway, the Cubs are off today before another doubleheader against the Pirates at Forbes Field. And those "Amazing Mets" are on the schedule for eight games in the next two weeks ...

-- 66 --

P.S. Here's a link to my current stats, if anyone is that interested ... 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Trip Back to Wrigley: Replaying the '69 Cubs

The 1969 Cubs included future Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.

Ultimately, the decision just came down to enjoying replaying games with hall-of-famers.

I'm just starting my quest to replay the Chicago Cubs infamous 1969 season in APBA baseball -- with a few twists. For example, I've ditched 30 games against division rivals to add some inter-league games, including a home-and-home series against the crosstown White Sox.

In addition to managing Cubs legends Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ron Santo, I'm looking forward to almost daily encounters with opposing hall-of-famers, from Bench and Seaver to Clemente, Mays and Aaron. Replaying games with such greats makes the 1969 Cubs an easy replay choice. For me, 1969 is part of one of baseball's golden eras.

And then there's the personal connection. Although my favorite team remains the Milwaukee Brewers, I was born in the Chicago area and lived on the north side of the city in Northbrook until third grade. That's when I moved north and started rooting for the Brew Crew.

But I can remember my grandma following the "Cubbies" and talking about the team when we visited her north side apartment in Winnetka.

Looking through the Cubs APBA cards, it's hard to believe they finished 8 games behind the Mets! Sure, the Mets had A starters Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, but they didn't have Santo. Banks and Williams suiting up every day. It was more like Art Shamsky, Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda.

The Cubs won 92 games that year, but are known more for their epic September collapse, and giving way to the Miracle Mets, who went on to defeat the invincible Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

The Cubs starting rotation was solid, with three B starters -- Jenkins, Bill Hands and Ken Holtzman. Where they could have used some help was a shutdown reliever. They had to depend on Phil Regan (CZ) and Ted Abernathy (BY).

The team's strength, of course, was it's everyday lineup. In addition to Santo, Williams and Banks, it featured all-star double-play combo Don Kessinger and Glenn Beckert. The Gold Glove shortstop was among the league leaders in runs, hits and doubles. Santo finished second in runs batted in (121)  and eighth in home runs (29). Williams finished the year in the top 10 in a half-dozen categories, including hits, runs, doubles, triples and RBI.

On the mound, the Cubs big three combined for 58 wins: Jenkins (21-15); Hands (20-14) and Holtzman (17-13).

One of the cool things about the 1969 APBA reprint set is that it includes a card for every player who got into a game that season. While it's neat to see some future stars who got their first taste of the big leagues that season (e.g. Ted Simmons, Carlton Fisk, Steve Garvey, Bill Buckner, Cesar Geronimo) I don't see going out of my way to find two at-bats for the Cubs' sixth-string catcher Randy Bobb!

The Cubs will open the season against the Phillies at Wrigley Field. Play ball!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Phillies' Playoff Homer Barrage Ends Brewers Season in '08 Replay

Photo courtesy of Bryce Edwards/Creative Commons

Home runs by the Phillies soundly spoiled any notions the Brewers had about moving beyond the NL Division Series in a replay of Milwaukee's 2008 season.

Just as in real life, the Brewers fell 3 games to 1 to the eventual World Series champion. My replay came to a sudden and decisive end as the Phillies smacked three 2-run home runs, rallying for a 10-4 win over the Brewers in Game 4.

It didn't matter that the replay Brewers ignored injuries that kept the real Ben Sheets, Russell Branyan and Gabe Kapler out of the series. While Sheets won Game 3 of the series and Branyan had a key home run in the win, their innings and at-bats couldn't reverse the series outcome.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard ultimately made the difference for the Phillies, combining for 6 home runs, 9 runs and 13 RBI. Yikes! With 4 of those home runs, Utley earned the series MVP award.

Game 1 -- Phillies 4, Brewers 2

A game that began with first-inning fireworks, quickly turned into an extra inning stalemate.

Photo courtesy of Matt Schilder/Creative Commons
Rickie Weeks led off with a single and was followed by a home run by J.J. Hardy, staking the Brewers to a 2-0 lead. The Phillies answered in the bottom of the first after a double by Jason Werth and Utley's first homer of the series.

Starters Yovani Gallardo and Cole Hamels gave way to a series of relievers over 14th innings. In the bottom of the 14th, Utley led off with a single, followed by Howard's walk-off home run on a pitch by Carlos Villanueva. Chad Durbin got the victory in the 4-2 win.

Game 2 -- Phillies 6, Brewers 4

Once again powered by a pair of two-run home runs by Utley and Howard, the Phillies cruised to a 6-4 win in Game 2. Ryan "Mad Dog" Madson got the win; Brad Lidge the save.

Branyan put the Brewers ahead 4-2 in the fourth inning with a home run to drive in Corey Hart, who had tripled to drive in Prince Fielder. However, C.C. Sabathia, whose pitching heroics helped propel the Brewers to their first playoff series in 26 years, couldn't put the brakes on the Phillies offense.

Sabathia surrendered a solo home run to Pedro Feliz in the bottom of the fourth and a two-run homer to -- who else? -- Utley in the seventh inning. Meanwhile, Clay Condrey, Madson and Lidge held the Brewers scoreless the rest of the way.

Game 3 -- Brewers 2, Phillies 1

Photo courtesy of Michael Napoleon/
Creative Commons
The Brewers didn't disappoint a full house at Miller Park, winning Game 3 2-1 when Hardy scored from second on Hart's two-out single in the bottom of the ninth inning. Sheets pitched a complete game, striking out nine, for the victory.

The only Phillies tally came in the first inning, as Jimmy Rollins lead off with a single and scored on a double by Utley. It took until the eighth inning for the Brewers to tie, on a solo home run by Branyan.

Jamie Moyer, who had no-hit the Brewers three weeks earlier, got the loss.

Game 4 -- Phillies 10, Brewers 4

The Phillies looked like they might wrap up Game 4 early when Jayson Werth crushed a home run off Brewers starter Dave Bush in the second inning. Carlos Ruiz scored a few moments later on an error by Branyan.

But the Brewers bounced back, thanks to J.J. Hardy. In the third, he drove in Weeks, who had tripled with two out. Then Hardy smashed a three-run homer in the fifth to help send Phillies starter Joe Blanton to the showers.

But that would be it for the Brewers, who mustered little against the Phillies' deep bullpen.

Meanwhile, the Phils were just getting warmed up.

Utley led the way with a pair of two-run home runs, one in the seventh inning and one in the eighth. Greg Dobbs -- yet another former Mariner -- closed out the barrage with a two-run dinger in the ninth. The Phillies piled up 14 hits in all.

Losing pitcher Brian Shouse, one of the Brewers' most effective arms out of the bullpen during the regular season, got pounded for five runs in two innings, including Utley's twin shots. Condrey got the win in relief for the Phillies.


Losing to the Phillies in the Division Series wasn't all that unexpected. And it certainly didn't diminish the Brewers' stellar 90-72 record in the regular season.

This was my first full-season replay. It was interesting to experience all the ups and downs, heartbreak and heroics that happen through a long season.

After a bit of a break, I'll be ready for another replay. Among the teams under consideration:
  • 1982 Brewers -- My favorite team ever!
  • 2011 Brew Crew -- NL Central Champs!
  • 1957 Braves -- Those were the days ... 
  • 1969 Cubs -- Reverse the curse?
  • 1949 Dodgers? 
We shall see ...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sabathia, Braun Lead Brew Crew to Playoffs in '08 APBA Replay

Courtesy of BaseballBacks/Creative Commons

C.C. Sabathia closed out the season in style -- with 34 shutout innings and a no-hitter in leading the Brewers to their first playoffs in 26 years in my APBA Baseball game replay of Milwaukee's 2008 season.

As in real life, Sabathia -- acquired in a mid-season trade with the Indians -- proved a game-changer. In his 17 starts for my Brewers, Sabathia tossed 13 complete games, 6 shutouts and a no-hitter versus the Reds on Sept. 20 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

C.C.'s no-no was one of many highlights in a replay that saw my Brewers match their real-life record of 90-72, good for second place in the NL Central behind the Cubs. While Sabathia (12-4, 1.81 ERA) was teaming up with Ben Sheets (16-11, 2.49 ERA) on the mound, Ryan Braun anchored the offense with 40 home runs, while scoring 104 runs and driving in 113. Meanwhile, Prince Fielder kicked in 32 homers to go along with 97 RBI.

Although I've been playing APBA some four decades since first rolling the dice for "The Kid" Robin Yount and "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron, this was my first full-season replay. I picked the '08 squad in part because I couldn't bear to lose close to 100 games as so many of Milwaukee's teams have done over the years.

I'll admit plenty of anxiety throughout the season, however, as I wondered if I could manage the Crew to the playoffs or suffer the same fate as Ned Yost, who was booted in favor of Dale Sveum with but a dozen games to go.

What frustrated me game after game was the Brewers' persistent lack of offense! This for a team that batted .253 and scored 750 runs and smacked 198 home runs. In my replay, the Brewers hit a paltry .226 while scoring 50 fewer runs. My Brewers hit 196 homers, while upping their doubles from 324 to 351. Nevertheless, their slugging and on-base percentages also dipped (.431 vs. .412 and .325 vs. .300).

Countering the drop in offense, apparently, was a spike in quality pitching! The replay Crew shaved three-quarters of a run off the team ERA -- from 3.85 to 3.15, which easily would have led the league in pitching!

Honestly, I'm stumped by the stats!

Seeing this slump in hitting from nearly the get-go, I had my doubts whether the Brewers could muster enough runs to match their real-life win total. But the ridiculously good pitching persisted, culminating in Sabathia's end-of-the-season invincibility.

In the end, I was amazed how close most of the other team stats matched reality.

And with some exceptions, individuals weren't too far off either. Sabathia, for instance, was 12-4 compared to 11-2. Sheets went 16-11 vs. 13-9.

Braun's .267/40/113 matched up with .285/37/106 while Fielder went .246/32/97 vs. .276/34/102. J.J. Hardy went .263/28/88  against .283/24/74.

When it came to hitting, my biggest disappointment was Corey Hart, who went .268/20/91 for real. In the replay he slumped miserably to .217/15/74. Meanwhile, one of my faves, centerfielder Mike Cameron was an uncanny .236/24/74, compared to reality's .243/25/70.

What did I learn about the way I manage over the course of this season?

Mainly that I prefer starting pitching, and that I way over-use the hit-and-run and except for pitchers, I almost never use the sacrifice bunt.

My rotation amassed 46 complete games -- 29 by Sheets and Sabathia. The real Brewers had 12 ... total! This probably accounted for the lack of replay saves, 31 vs. 45.

In real life, the Brewers had fewer than one stolen base per game, 108. I piled up 158, including 37 apiece for Cameron and Hart and 36 for my main leadoff hitter, Rickie Weeks. That was only about double their actual totals: Cameron 17, Hart 23, and Weeks 19. D'oh!

In the end, this replay was more an experiment than anything. Based on all the other replays I've read about over the years in the APBA Journal/APBA Blog and elsewhere, I figured the Brewers would end up pretty close to their actual record. But I had to prove it to myself.

Also just as in real life, it was alternately exhilarating when the Brewers won and funk-inducing when they lost, especially what seemed like an inordinate number of walk-off wins by the likes of the Reds, Cards and Astros -- damn you, Joey Votto!

Some highlights:

Sept. 28: Brewers win their last game of the season, a 3-0 shutout by Sabathia for win number 12. They finish the replay with a 90-72 record -- identical to real life.

Sept. 27: Braun hits a pair of home runs in a 7-1 win over the Cubs.

Sept. 25: The Brewers lose 3-2 to the lowly Pirates in 11 innings. The loss drops the Brewers' record to 7-8 record against the Bucs for the year, a far cry from the 14-1 record they posted against Pittsburgh in real life.

Sept. 21: The Brewers score 5 runs in the 9th inning, including a 3-run home run by Mike Cameron to defeat the Reds 13-8.

Sept. 20: Sabathia throws a no-hitter to beat the Reds 3-0. Fielder and Hardy hit home runs to provide the offense.

Sept. 11: Jamie Moyer of the Phillies throws a no-hitter in defeating the Brewers 4-0.

Sept. 2-3: Mets errors lead to back-to-back walk-off wins for the Brewers.

Aug. 15-17: The Brewers sweep Los Angeles in a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.

Aug. 6: Joey Votto hits a two-out, grand slam in the bottom of the 9th to rally the Reds to a 7-4 win.

July 28: The Brewers defeat the Cubs 5-4 in 18 innings on back-to-back doubles by Hardy and Braun.

July 18-20: The visiting Brewers sweep the Giants in three games at AT&T Park.

July 15: Ben Sheets and Ryan Braun start for the NL All-Stars at Yankee Stadium. The AL wins 12-4 behind MVP Manny Ramirez, who goes 2-for-3 with 5 RBI on a double and a triple.

July 13: In one of his rare bad outings, Sabathia loses 11-5 to the Reds at Miller Park, dropping the Brewers to 51-44 at the All-Star Break.

June 25: Braun smacks a 10th-inning home run to beat the Braves 5-4.

June 7-8: On consecutive nights Corey Hart hits two-run home runs in the final inning to rally the team to wins over the Rockies in Denver.

June 6: Brad Haupe jacks at two-out grand slam in the bottom of the 10th to drop the Brewers 6-2.

May 30: Russell Branyan hits a pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Astros 7-6.

May 27: Mike Cameron hits a pair of home runs to lead the Crew to a 4-1 win over the Braves.

May 25: The Nationals pound the Brewers 15-3, smacking 19 hits.

May 12: The Brewers win 1-0, scoring the winning run on a walk-off hit by Gabe Kapler, subbing for Braun.

May 11: The first six batters for the visiting Cardinals reach base and score on the way to a 12-5 win.

April 25: The Brewers hit five home runs, including two by Braun, to defeat the Marlins 15-2.

April 24: Prince Fielder smacks at walk-off three-run home run to rally the Brewers to a 4-3 win over the Phillies.

April 20: The Brewers fall four games under .500 to 7-11 after a 1-0 shutout by Aaron Harang of the Reds.

March 30: Ben Sheets begins the season the same way he ends it, with a win over the Cubs, this one a 4-2 victory on opening day at Wrigley Field.

-- 66 --

Note: This replay took me about a year to complete. I took a break after about 30 games, right about the time Ryan Braun was suspended for the rest of last season. When I finally got over it, the pace of play heated up the closer I got to the end ...