Series Preview: Cubs vs. Cardinals
Apologies for the belated nature of this post.
The Cubs have started out September just like we hoped they wouldn't. Loss after loss, a team that was once an unstoppable force of motion and ... uh, force ... ahem .... well, the Cubs have been playing like refried shiz ever since the Phillies took the last 2 of their 4 game series to end August.
Consequently, Cub fans have been jumping off the ledge faster than stock brokers when befallen with the crash that perluded the Great Depression. It's pretty sad when you think about it. Despite losing 7 of their last 8, the Cubs have the best record in the National League. They've got a 4.5 game lead on a Brewers team who's lost 6 of their last 8 - and that's the largest lead of any playoff-bound team in the NL, by the way - and there are multitudes of Cub fans who have already declared this a lost season.
I'm sorry, but that's embarrassing. It's tough enough for me to read all about it on the net. If I was in Wrigleyville listening to these guys lament their sorrows while drowning in Old Style, I'd probably start throwing punches. Now, I mean no disrespect to those of you who have lost your courage and are no longer capable of believing that anything good will come of this season, I'm happy we have your patronage and I welcome your comments, but you depress me far worse than any Cubs losing streak possibly could. My one piece of advice to you is this: in 2009, any time you feel that the Cubs are done, stick a fork in 'em, cancel Christmas kitchen's closed, deposit $100 into a high interest savings account. In late October, when they really will be done one way or the other, withdraw that money. At the very least, you'll be able to take your family out to an expensive dinner. In all likelihood, you'll have enough money to take a nice vacation some place warm. And, extremely, if you find that you cannot afford to keep up with your doom and gloom mentality, then use what money you've been able to tuck away in order to book an appointment with a top-notch therapist in order to analyze behavior that I would characterize as being Immensely Unhealthy. Either way, you win, just like the Cubs will.
Anyway, let's take a look at the series preview, Cubs vs. Cardinals.
Tuesday, September -9th Ryan Dempster (15-6, 2.94 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (13-6, 3.82 ERA)
I'm tempted to write, "if Ryan Dempster can avoid the wrath and fury of Albert Pujols, then the Cubs will be in a good position to win," but I think you'd be smart enough to see through my facade. I will say this. Dempster - like the rest of the Cubs - has been slumping as of late. But, through 6 innings of work, he's allowed 3 runs. Most months, the Cubs kill a team if their pitching holds the opponent's offense to 3 runs, but lately our Cubs have struggled to produce.
They've been coming close to punishing the Cardinals, however, and after 5.1 innings were able to chase Lohse from the game. The Cubs of any other year lose tonight because they have failed to take advantage of early situations. The Cubs of 2008, the past 8 games excluded, score 5 runs after the 7th and make it a blow out. Tonight's Cubs score 2 more and then scare the crap out of us in the 9th.
Hey, nobody said anything was easy, and nobody promised any kind of reward. It is what it is. You know what it isn't, though? Cliff jumping time.
Wednesday, September 10th - Ted Lilly (13-9, 4.43 ERA) vs. Braden Looper (12-11, 4.09 ERA)
Theodore Roosevelt Lilly was, at one point, on the brink of being an above average #4 guy. Then he faced the Reds again. I'm not sure what Cincy knows that the rest of baseball doesn't, but he got lit up like a doobie in a college dorm room. In 2007, Lilly was an effective guy at stopping a losing skid; in 2008, we've been happy during the long stretches when he was effective at all.
Braden Looper is a converted reliever. I can't believe the luck the Cardinals have had with those guys. It's not getting them into the playoffs, though, and while Looper has fared well against the Cubs this year, they are overdue to a) beat the holy hell out of a team, and b) demolish Looper.
Thursday, September 11th - Rich Harden (9-2, 1.99 ERA) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (12-6, 3.74 ERA)
Rich Harden quietly skipped his last start due to arm soreness. Wouldn't it just be so damned Cub for both of the team's top starters to go down in September, allowing us to instead witness a ghost of the team flail and fall in the playoffs? Well, as somebody who does not subscribe to superstition, and as somebody who does not believe in curses, I'm having a lot of trouble accepting my previously stated premise. In other, less confusing words, I have to believe that Harden will be fine.
Todd Wellemeyer, meanwhile, is a converted reliever. Like Looper, he also has had a tremendous amount of success this season, but he's done only "ok" against the Cubs. He's in over his head against Harden, assuming the Cubs ace isn't a shell of himself. But why would he be?
Predictions: I remember a few years ago, I was standing with my boss outside of this little shop I worked in. We were looking down the street, which on a bit of a hill, at a very large kid on a bicycle. He was huffing, puffing, sweating and swearing, but he just couldn't get his bike to pedal. He was stuck on the hill. My boss looked at him and laughed, and he said "inertia is a bitch." He was right, and it works in both ways. The Cubs are right now at the bottom of a hill trying like hell to get back up to the top again. Once they get back up there, they will have momentum. They have time to muscle their way on up. It starts tonight.
The next time I post on this blog, things will already be different. Maybe the Cubs will surprise a lot of us tonight and pull off a very satisfying win. Or maybe they will dog it out with the Cardinals, giving and getting, playing into extra innings before Bob Howry steps up to the mound and incinerates the game with another of his meaty fastballs.
I don't know if the Cubs will win this series. I don't know if the slump is over. What I do know is what I've always known - the most important games this month are the last 10. No, scratch that. The last 10 are important, but the last 5 are huge. Right now, everything in between is sound and fury, signifying nothing, scaring the crap out of everybody.