Memo from a Cardinals fan: I know it's only 17 games into the 2009 season, but I'm nervous. My team was doing really good there for a few games, but did you see the way the Cubs hammered them today? It's like it wasn't even a competition! I mean, where was the Cards offense? What will we do it St. Louis can't stop the bleeding? 10 runs to 3? Horrible! I'm quite convinced this season is going to be a total bust...
Back in reality. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But if the script had been flipped and the Cubs took the first 2 game of this series only to get smacked around by the Cardinals today, then that is exactly what dopey Cub fans would be saying right now.
Nevertheless, the Cubs whomped the Cardinals. It felt good. Every starter - but Geo Soto, shocker and Reed Johnson - got a hit. In fact, the 1-4 guys went 8 for 16 with 7 of the team's 8 RBI (2 runs came unearned).
Offensive winners particularly include Micah Hoffpauir - 2 for 3, with 1 homerun (clearly he needs to have Derrek Lee's job) - and Kosuke Fukudome, who hit his 4th homerun of the year. Remember folks, he only hit 10 all of last season.
Rich Harden picked up his second win of the year, struck out 9 in 6 innings, dropped his ERA to 3.86, and sweated his balls off when the Cubs bullpen came in and gave up 4 hits and 2 walks in the final 3 innings of the game.
This could be known as the Three Game April Series in which some very vocal Cub fans lost their confidence in the team. I will not contest how ugly it was, because it sure was horrible. I won't argue that some very bad things happened - from freak injuries to ugly losses to feelings of immense frustration - because those were all bad and they happened in a matter of one weekend.
But I will say this: if your team quit on the game as quickly as you quit on your team, you would hate them with a passion. Just a reminder.
Tomorrow the Cubs head into Arizona, and we will be announcing some fun projects at GROTA.
Current Record: 9-8
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 154-8
Worst Possible Record: 9-153
Record needed to win 110: 101-44
On Pace For: 86-76
It hurts! It hurts me in the soul!
It's hard to blame Carlos, who pitched well but not exceptionally. El Gordo Mooso threw 7 innings, surrendered 7 hits, walked 2, and struck out 7 while allowing 3 earned runs. The problem was that Carlos could have held the Reds to 1 run and it probably would've been too many because the offense is dead right now and the bullpen is struggling.
I'm going to take from this series an important factoid - when the Cubs were working Reds pitchers, they kicked the crap out of them. But the last two games they've drawn maybe 3 walks and so their scoring opportunities have been minimal.
In the bullpen, Neal Cotts continued to deliver - 2 hits and 1 earned, via a homer. And Jeff Samardizja, in his first outing of 2009, prooved to be well worth the cutting of Luis Vizcaino and his 0.00 ERA by giving up 4 hits and 2 earned runs.
Later today I'm going to write a littany of complaints against Lou, which doesn't mean I don't love him in a non-gay way.
The Cubs entered this home series against Dusty Baker's Reds with a statistical lead in the central. They leave 2 games out of first - in fourth place - behind the surprisingly resilient Cardinals.
Hey, it's still way too early to judge but maybe the central will be tougher than we could've expected.
Current Record: 8-6
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 156-6
Worst Possible Record: 8-154
On Pace For: 93-69
Sunday evening's Cubs-Cardinals showdown was rained out, much to our disappointment.
I've pretty much said everything about the series - that I can think of at least, I happily welcome you to interject your own reflections on the match-up - but I'll do a quick recap for everybody.
The Hitting: The Cubs scored 19 in 3 games. If they can average 6.3 runs a game the rest of the year, then they will be playoff bound.
Alfonso Soriano - 3 for 12, 4 BB, 1 HR, 2 RBI, .250 AVG, .438 OBP. The Fonz actually resembled a leadoff hitter this series with just a dash of clutch thrown in. Between his 4 walks he hit a game-winning homerun on Friday.
Kosuke Fukudome - 5 for 12, 2 BB, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .417 AVG, .500 OBP. Fukudome had at least 1 RBI in every game and was probably the series MVP, even if he didn't hit a game winning homer like Soriano and Ramirez. He very well may wind up batting .270 this year with below-average numbers, but he remains a contributor for now.
Derrek Lee - 3 for 14, 0 BB, 1 2B, 3 RBI, .214 AVG. Lee slowed down this series. The lack of walks gives the impression that he's pressing. Then again, 3 RBI in 3 games. I reiterate that Lee belongs batting 6th, but by the end of the year his numbers will be that of a slightly below-average #3 hitter ... and on a team with above average 5 through 8 hitters, that's not such a big deal.
Micah Hoffpauir - 3 for 11, 0 BB, 1 2B, 1 RBI, .273 AVG. Hoff stepped in for Milton this series, as the Crazy Uncle has found himself slumping and in trouble. Hoff's numbers aren't bad for your top bench choice. Maybe Lou needs to realize that that's what Hoffpauir is - the best pinch hitter on the team - rather than continue to feed at bats for Aaron Miles to squander.
Aramis Ramirez - 6 for 13, 1 BB, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .416 AVG, .500 OBP. If Fukudome is the series MVP, Ramirez is the runner up. Aramis put up great numbers against the Cubs' biggest rival. Some Goat Riders think that this is Clutchy's year to bust out. I remain skeptical that he'll outproduce his normal numbers, but even a "normal" Ramirez season is pretty damned good.
Mike Fontenot - 1 for 9, .111 AVG. Ugh. Not a good series for FonteYES. This blog went out of its way to defend Fontenot as the choice to play second base for the Cubs in '09, but so far he's making us look dumber than a brain-damaged Paris Hilton. Blah blah, small sample sizes, yadda yadda, two months to prove himself, etc. etc., he's still way better than Aaron Miles, (secretly shed a tear for the departed DeRosa; put on a strong face, and so-on).
Aaron Miles - 1 for 5, 2 BB, 2 RBI, .200 AVG, .375 OBP. Listen. If you really think Aaron Miles should be starting on the Cubs, then you need to go back to 1997 with your Sammy Sosa hop and your $15 bleachers so you can drunkenly sway with the crowd while Harry Caray sings TMOTTBG in the 7th because under no circumstance should Aaron Miles be starting for a team that's going to win more than 90 games. I hope you like boy bands, buddy, because you belong in the era where they reigned supreme if you want to stump for Miles. ...then again, Brittany was hot back then.
Geovany Soto - 1 for 9, 4 BB, 1 RBI, .111 AVG, .385 OBP. Ah yes, Geovany Soto. This week's reason for my developing ulcer. Doesn't Geo know that the Cubs have a history of one-year-wonders? Isn't he aware of how effin' nervous we get at slow starts? Anyway, Soto and Bradley should be best friends. Between them they have 3 hits this year. And it's April 20th. Geeze!
Ryan Theriot - 5 for 12, 1 BB, 1 3B, .416 AVG, .462 OBP. He has long been known as The Riot or, in my case, TheQuitRiot. But I have a new nickname for Theriot, and I think it will stick. He shall be called "Slappy." The guy is getting a ton of hits, often multiple hits per game, but the are rarely for extra bases despite his speed. Theriot belongs either 1st or 8th in the lineup based on his inability to slug.
Okay, back to generalities.
The Pitching (in my best Frankenstein's Monster voice): Starters (and fire) baaaaad. Bullpen goooood.
Sean Marshall - Good news: allowed 3 earned runs in 5 innings and left the game with the chance to win. Bad news: WHIP was 1.8 that game. Not a terrible outing for a #5 pitcher. I know Rob expressed a different viewpoint, but I think he overreacted a little. A team's 5th pitcher - be it the guy pitching for the Yankees or the Pirates - tends to suck. Marshall very well may be better than most of those #5 guys and one outing in which he barely left with a lead will not even remotely indicate if he's going to be successful. I need a much larger sample size.
Carlos Zambrano - Good news: 7 innings pitched. Bad news: 7 earned runs. Good news: 7 strikeouts. Bad news: 7 earned runs. I don't know what it is about Carlos, but when he loses he tends to get beaten up. He rarely loses a game 3 to 2. I didn't get to see this game, but I'd guess by the strikeouts that his problem wasn't velocity. Was it location/lack of movement?
Ryan Dempster - Good news: 6 innings pitched. Bad news: they were mediocre. 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts, and 4 earned runs were the result of his 103 pitch effort. Our second richest pitcher needs to improve on that.
Aaron Heilman - 3 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 ER, 3.00 ERA. Heilman blew a save opportunity (although losing a lead in the 6th inning is blowing a save the cheap way), won a game, and was mostly effective. Let's just face it - the first game was not the Cubs' to win.
Neil Cotts - 0.1 IP, 1 H, 2 BB. Let's just be honest. Cotts is on the Piniella shit list. Aubrey Huff once told a story about Lou following him into the clubhouse after a game, red-faced and ranting, dogging him in the showers, screaming at the top of his lungs because Huffy screwed up. Why do I have a feeling that Cotts has experienced something similar to that? I just think that Piniella needs to put him out there on the mound and leave him to bail out the Cubs or get beaten up by their opponents. Seriously, the next time Cotts comes in and walks the first batter he faces, Lou needs to leave him out there to bail himself out.
Dave Patton - 0.2 IP, 1 H, 2BB, 2 ER, 27.00 ERA. (Correct me please if I screwed up the ERA calculation.) The General had a rough one in the first game of the series.
Angel Guzman - 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 2 K, 4.50 ERA. Guzman along with the entire Cubs bullpen got slammed in the first game, but he got the job done in Game Three.
Luis Vizcaino - 1 IP, 1 H, 2 K, 0.00 ERA. Go figure - Vizcaino has yet to allow an earned run this year. Isn't he washed up?
Carlos Marmol - 2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 ER, 4.50 ERA. Marmol killed it in Game Two, but in the third game Lou went to the well once too often and it cost him. Carlos is not a two innings-pitched reliever. Sorry. He just can't do it.
Kevin Gregg - 2 IP, 2 K, 0 ER, 0.00 ERA. This guy pretty well may have lost the closer's role, but he saved the day on Saturday. I think Gregg will still have the gig next week ... but he's right behind Neal Cotts on that list.
Good, timely hitting - check.
Good, effective starting pitching - meh.
Quality relieving - minus game one, check.
Cubs win 2 of 3, and are now in first place. Eat it, St. Louis.
Current Record: 7-4
Position in the NL Central: 1st Place, tied with St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 158-4
Worst Possible Record: 7-155
On Pace For: 103-59
Magic Number: 151 courtesy of Cubsmagicnumber.com
In a 162 game season, all sorts of crazy crap will happen. Aaron Miles will hit a game winning homerun before it's all said and done. Carlos Marmol will resemble a drunken Bob Howry sometime before it's all said and done.
To the point. Jason Marquis will win games against the best offense in the National League. Fact is he just did. And Rich Harden will have games in which he looks like re-fried shiz. On a day when the offense is clicking, it's no big deal. But the Cubs could only manage 2 runs off of 7 hits and 3 walks, and Harden looked uglier than Tori Spelling after a long day without makeup.
Actually I'm being harsh on Harden. After all, the man managed to make 9 outs today, and 8 of them came from strikeouts. Think about that ratio! Hell, the only out not made by strikeouts happened when Chris Ianetta was gunned down at third. But between all the missed swings and the 8 fouled-off pitches by Garrett Atkins in the 2nd ('twas a 14 pitch at bat), Harden gave up 5 hits and walked 4 and he was chased before the start of the 4th due to having thrown 92 pitches.
However the Rockies' offensive surge abruptly ended after they drove Lou Piniella to turn to his incredibly shaky bullpen. Somewhere between the lines of that last sentence is a hell of a lot of sarcasm, by the way. Dave "Commander" Patton, Luis "Pops" Vizcaino, Not a LOOGY Cotts, and Angel Guzman threw 6 innings, allowed only 1 run between them, and struck out 6 batters.
Offensively, Derrek Lee finally came alive with a 3 for 4 day (including a 9th inning solo homerun), Reed Johnson got 2 hits in 4 at bats, and Micah Hoffpauir hit an RBI double in a pinch hit at bat. Otherwise it was pretty much a snooze fest. Oh well - maybe the Cubs are just gearing up for the matchup with the Cardinals starting tomorrow.
They say that a tie is like kissing your sister, and apparently in the Star Wars universe Luke Skywalker was all about ties. "Hey Emperor," he was known to shout, "let's just call it a draw! Where's my sister?"
Sorry, got distracted. The Cubs split their home opener with the Rockies. Surely this is one for the books, and based on the high demand and excitement of a home opener with Colorado, the Rockies will probably be the preferred opening team of the Cubs from now on. (Again with the sarcasm between the lines.)
On the bright side, Derrek Lee is narrowing in on batting his weight. Negatively, Rich Harden apparently hasn't learned that after the fourth consecutive foul ball, you should just walk that asshole. And sadly, Jason Marquis won. It's walk of shame time in the North Side.
Current Record: 5-3
Position in the NL Central: 1 game behind St. Louis for the lead
Best Possible Record: 159-3
Worst Possible Record: 5-157
On Pace For: 101-61
Pre-Recap Update - By this time tomorrow, hopefully, the Zambran-0-Meter 2009 edition will be up on the site along with an article loudly proclaiming my prediction of 110 wins and World Series dominance. So if you are superstitious and have a weak stomach, you might want to avoid GROTA for a while.
The Cubs leave Milwaukee with another series win, following another offensive explosion - this one of the less likely kind, a defensive gem, and a diaper-filling appearance by Kevin Gregg. Let's break it down:
Offense - For the first time that I can remember, the Cubs had more runs - all earned - than hits. It all happened thanks to the disintegration of Jeff Suppan in the 4th, when he hit one batter, walked a guy, surrendered a single, and then proceeded to walk the next 3 batters he faced. He was then yanked for Jorge Lugo who also walked home a run before escaping.
I'm sure that it's not too uncommon for a team to have more runs than hits - maybe even a lot more runs than hits like the Cubs, but it's still a pretty weird line. I'm sure that if Dusty was still managing the Cubs, he would've have frustratingly called for his hitters to be more aggressive after the first or second guy got walked home. Let's be happy that the Cubs are a much better disciplined team these days.
As for runs earned "legitimately," the Fonz selfishly led off the game with a homerun, Theriot doubled home Fontenot in the 5th, and Three Finger Hill doubled home Theriot in the 9th. Oh, and Derrek Lee sac-flied Joey Gathright in the 8th, giving him 2 RBI to go along with 0 hits. Go figure.
I had a small debate with AJ in the sbox about Lee. AJ noted that in a 1 out situation with a runner on 1st and 3rd, he'd rather see Hoffpauir at the plate than Lee because Derrek is far more likely to hit a ground ball. I disagree with that, though.
It's true that Lee hits more grounders - almost twice as many, on average - because high strikeout players will always be prone to hit fewer balls on the grass. But it's also true that, on average, Lee has been a good hitter who's batted .290 or better in most of his years with the Cubs, meaning that while he'll hit more ground balls he'll also be more likely to get ground ball hits. The double play stigma attached to Lee's reputation is an example of overthinking. GDP's tend to occur by chance more often than not, not because a hitter is "prone" or "declining." I'd be a little surprised if Derrek hit as many GDP's in '09, and if he is indeed a better hitter than Hoffpauir - and slow start notwithstanding, he is a better hitter than Hoffpauir - then I'd take the guy who's more inclined to actually get a hit every day over the guy who's bound for striking out big.
Incidentally, Milton Bradley came up lame running the bases in the 4th inning, which allowed for Reed Johnson to make an entrance that would be incredibly memorable, but more on that in a minute.
Bradley, incidentally, has a tight right groin ::shudders:: but is listed as day-to-day.
The Pitching - Ryan Dempster is escaping with mediocre stuff right now. In the first inning, he loaded the bases with one out and, despite tossing a wild pitch, escaped with one run allowed. In the third inning, he allowed 2 men on without permitting either to score. In the fourth he served up a solo homerun before striking out the next 3 batters. Then came the fifth inning. This one deserves it's own paragraph.
In the fifth inning, Dempster gave up singles to Ricky Weeks and Craig Counsell before hitting Ryan Braun to load the bases for the fat-but-dangerous Prince Fielder. Fielder then proceeded to crank a blast to deep right field, where Reed Johnson - fittingly subbing for the sore Bradley - made a running catch which robbed Fielder of a game-tying Grand Slam.
Desipio participant section242 said it best ... The Prince literally tipped his cap to Reed. When he did he revealed a half eaten donut under his hat.
It's very likely that had Soul Patch not been in the game, that ball would've been a goner. Let's call it a Serendipitous Injury and move on.
Amazingly enough, Dempster gave up only 2 runs that inning, escaped, and came back to pitch a scoreless 6th. Then, having decided to take the more conservative route, Lou actually picked - and used - one reliever per inning. Marshall pitched a scoreless 7th, Marmol pitched a dominating 8th, and Kevin Gregg stepped in and pitched a gut-wrenching, vomit-inducing 9th. Having gotten the first 2 outs of the inning with apparent ease, Gregg served up a homerun to Ricky Weeks, a double to Craig Counsell and a walk to Ryan Braun. Then, with Prince Fielder again up and ready to do some game-tying damage, Gregg managed to strike him out to end the inning.
I'm sure Lou had a few choice words for him after that. Odds are, Gregg isn't going to be immediately demoted to middle relief, but he's probably got about two weeks to right his ship. Then again, Piniella is older and crankier than me. It may only be 2 more appearances before the change is made.
After opening the series with a 1-run loss that should have been a win, the Cubs took the next two games and are now 4-2 on the year. Two road series victories to kick off the year is a good start. Now they just have to prove they can win at home again.
Current Record: 4-2
Position in the NL Central: half a game behind St. Louis for the lead
Best Possible Record: 160-2
Worst Possible Record: 4-158
On Pace For: 108-54
The Cubs leave Houston with a winning record following an offensive explosion. Let's break it down...
8 of the team's 11 runs were scored in the first 2 innings of the game, and only 3 of those 8 runs came from a homerun - the result of a 3-run shot by Mike Fontenot.
Impressively, Soriano went 2 for 5, scoring 2 runs and stealing a base. More impressively, #2 hitter Kosuke Fukudome went 4 for 5, including a double and a homer, silencing his critics for at least one night. Fooky also stole a base (as a part of a double steal with Sori).
In fact, every Cub regular but Milton Bradley - we'll get to him in a second - got a hit. Lee went a meager 1 for 6 (Hoffpauir is shining his bat in anticipation), while Aramis collected 4 hits and 4 RBI.
About Bradley - he remains 0 for 2009, but he also remains amazingly patient. He worked every pitch count he saw last night and drew 3 walks. It may not exactly be what we're looking for in a cleanup hitter, but who cares? Bradley's discipline is part of the reason why Ramirez drove in 4 last night.
Ted Lilly! Why? Last year Lilly was a fantastic pitcher, except for when he faced the Reds and ignoring his first 4 or 5 starts. Last night Teddy Roosevelt got the least-earned win imaginable. He pitched 5 innings, striking out 3, walking 0, and serving up 4 - FOUR!! - homeruns, all but one solo-shots. Lilly now has an improbable record of 1-0 with an ERA of 9.00.
As far as the pen went, Dave Patton gave a very solid performance in his major league debut. He appears to be earning a high degree of man-love from Cub fans everywhere. Oh, and Marmol and Guzman pitched shutout ball in their innings of relief as well.
The Series Recap
If the Cubs can average 2 wins for every 3 games played, then they will come pretty close to the 110 wins I'm predicting they'll win in '09. A road series win, beating the 3 best pitchers of an opposing team that's dangerous but lacking the juice to stay competitive ... well, that's pretty awesome. The Cubs killed Moehler last night, chasing him in the 2nd inning, and amazingly they were able to hold Carlos Lee to a 1 for 12 (.083 AVG) performance. It may be the first time in his career that Lee didn't burn the Cubs at least once. The guy's got a career .306 AVG against the Cubs and has hit 27 homeruns against them - 8 better than his second best against-team total.
The Cubs roll into Milwaukee next on Friday. Maybe they will continue to announce their presence with authority there by thrasing the Brewers.
Current Record: 2-1
Position in the NL Central: Tied for 1st with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee
Best Possible Record: 161-1
Worst Possible Record: 2-160
On Pace For: 108-54
And a P.S.
We're 3 games into our experiment in this new format with better graphics and hopefully a little more interactionability (I know that's not a real word). I'd love to know what you think about the graphics and the content.
And just like that, the 2008 regular season comes to a close. CC Sabathia finally was able to beat the Cubs, although Lou hardly trotted out his best players today. What's more, Sabathia pitched again on short rest and went the distance - 122 pitches and 7 strikeouts to notch another big win. With all due respect to Webb, maybe the Brewers lefty should get some votes for the Cy Young.
The Cubs were offensively quiet today; in fact, Theriot and Ramirez accounted for all their hits. The Cubs pitching was pretty effective - Angel Guzman rediscovered some of that God-given talent and struck out 4 Brewers in 2 innings of work, before turning it over to an assorted cast of characters. Gaudin, Cotts, Hart, Marshall, Wuertz, and Howry, proceeded to get some work, and ironically it was only the guys up for post season roster consideration who looked bad.
I'm sure some Cub fans are a little frustrated that the team couldn't hold onto their thin lead and force Milwaukee into a one-game with the Mets, but this was clearly not today's objective. Lou Piniella was looking to get all of his relievers a little work. In the process, he discovered something we've known for quite a while - the only time Bob Howry doesn't let a hit drop onto the playing field is when it cannot be contained by the park. Unfortunately, that's often. In the 8th inning, Howry managed to secure 2 outs before giving up the game-changing homer, but even the second out of the inning was one that almost escaped the ballpark. This takes us to ...
Well, I was hoping for a sweep, but upon reflection it would have required a minor miracle. But chin up, Cub fans. The Brewers look far from invincible. To get to the post season, they have loaded up their workhorse ace and probably sooner rather than later, he's going to wear out. And while Bob Howry has to be the most concerning post season selection I've seen since Lou penciled in Jason Marquis, the are unlikely to use him in a tight spot. We might see Howry come in if they are leading by 8 or losing by 8, but I doubt he'll be pitching in a close situation. Let's keep that in mind.
Bring on the Dodgers
Now that Milwaukee has clinched, the Dodgers are lined up to play the Cubs. This is the first post season in a long, long while in which all New York teams will be watching from home, which is rare and makes things more interesting, at least for me. This will also be a particularly interesting NLDS because, while the Cubs have beaten the Dodgers in the season series, it was mostly in low-scoring games and without the presence of Manny Ramirez. Back in June and July, 1460's Jon Miller and I went back and forth on this a lot - the Dodgers were a little concerning. But now that September is finally ending, I say bring 'em on. If the Cubs can't beat the weakest team to make the playoffs, then they don't deserve to beat anybody else.
I'm going to start on a Post Season Scouting Report, which I will publish at some point tomorrow. In the meantime, let's give Milwaukee their moment, but let's not forget something - we owned them all year long, and we'll own them in the NLCS if we have to.
The playoff roster roulette table keeps on spinning, and tonight Micah Hoffpauir made his statement against Pedro Martinez and the Mets. Hoffpauir went 5 for 5 tonight against New York, with a double, 2 homeruns, 5 runs driven in, and after the game he reportedly cleaned the Augean stables and captured the girdle of Hippolyte*. But, alas, the Cubs were doomed to lose anyway, thanks in part to Lou responsibly saving his top relievers for games that matter.
(*For Googlers of the Labors of Herakles, welcome. Thanks for the clicks. Sorry about not being what you were looking for. But for a great resource on Greek Myth, consult the Perseus Digital Library ... although if you want to be blown away by verifiable modern-day myth, just Google Micah Hoffpauir. Dude jacked 2 in one game tonight.)
Speaking of roulette*, Neal Cotts worked tirelessly to get onto Lou Piniella's shiz-list tonight with a rocky 8th inning. He was last seen being chased from the mound by Piniella, yelling "but you need me!" as he ducked into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Bob Howry quickly joined Cotts by giving up 2 RBI hits upon relieving the inept lefty.
(*For Googlers looking for rules about the game of roulette ... ehhh, forget it. You came to the wrong place. I mean, you Googled "roulette." Why the heck did you click on a link that said "Goat Riders of the Apocalypse?" Did you think it was some witty play off the term "let it ride!"? And if so, how the heck could you justify the Goat and the Apocalypse part of our name? I mean, seriously!)
No worries. While the Cubs are now incapable of winning 100 this year, they remain poised to win all the games that actually matter. What's more, they are in an excellent position to spoil the hopes of the hapless Milwaukee Brewers, who are on the brink of completing their Wild Card collapse. All they have to do is beat them, and that's something the Cubs have enjoyed doing all year long.
The Playoff Roster
While we continue to debate Hoffpauir's inclusion, and while we ponder the image of Neal Cotts sneaking into Lou's hotel room at night and feverishly whispering "you need me!" over and over again as our skipper slumbers, it has been confirmed by ESPN that the Game 1 starter will be Dempster.
Clownsevelt will also apparently get one final tune-up before the end of the season, although he will be limited to a mere 75-80 pitches against the Brewers tomorrow night. While Brandon Webber has to be the hands-down favorite to win the Greg Maddux Award this year, Dempster should get more than a few votes.
You are still focused on the frightening image of Neal Cotts whispering into the ear of Lou Piniella. Well, here's a fun fact for you to think about once you get over the convulsions...
The New York Mets, desperate for a playoff spot and fighting two teams to earn one, were barely able to split a series from a Cubs team that batted back-ups and call-ups 80 times in the 4 game series.
C'mon. How can you not feel good about this team? And Smitty - where are you, man? I want a recant!
It has been a long, long, loooooong weekend for me. As you know by now, I spent it by driving to the States, where I planned on enjoying a weekend in the company of friends, 15 year old scotch, Cuban cigars, and the warm company of a brainless day on a couch with a good book.
I saw my friends, but pretty much everything else went out the window. I have a cousin who's staying at my Mom's, along with her teenage daughter and twin toddlers (just toss the adjective "terror" in front of their names and you'll have the right idea) and two mornings of being awoken at 7:30AM kind of put a dent in my fun. In other words, I'm writing this through the haze of exhaustion, don't mind the run-on sentences.
While I was gone, a few cool things happened in baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays - or, as I like to refer to them, the Cubs' future World Series opponents - clinched their first playoff berth ever. The Brewers continued perhaps the greatest Wild Card collapse in baseball history. Oh, and the Cubs clinched the division.
Let's take a look at this clinically:
Friday, September 19th: Cardinals 12, Cubs 6
Carlos Zambrano is riding a roller coaster. After climbing to a ridiculous height in his previous start, he dive-bombed to ground level by being routed by the Cardinals. Jon Miller speculates that Carlos was just doing us the favor of letting the Cubs clinch on the field the following day, but I'm not so sure. Basically, the Moose has me feeling an awful lot of concern, and after this outing, he is no longer my Game One starter. More on that later.
What was interesting of this game, however, was how the backup Cubs fared once Lou yanked all of his starters. Kosuke Fukudome had an RBI single, Daryle Ward smacked 2 doubles, and the Cubs managed to score 6 runs in total after the game was long over. It seems like some guys are trying to convince the Cubs that they are playoff roster worthy. More on that later, too.
Saturday, September 20th: Cubs 5, Cardinals 4
They decided to scare us first, but the Cubs clinched on Saturday although Ted Lilly had a rough 6th inning. For a while there, I was convinced that Lilly would make my prediction of a sub-4.00 ERA season come true, and then he got smacked around by Troy Glaus. No matter, Lilly still won his 16th of the year, Kerry Wood achieved his 32nd save of the season, and the Cubs got to have their victory lap around Wrigley Field.
Sunday, September 21st: Cubs 5, Cardinals 1
Okay, let me get this out of the way first: the 2008 Cubs aren't going to win 100 games. At this point, it shouldn't even be an objective. Right now, this team's only goal should be to get playoff ready, if they aren't already. However, you better believe that a part of me is happy to know that the team is still capable of achieving a 100 win season, and all they have to do is go 6-1 against two teams still mathematically alive for a playoff spot. No troubles at all, there.
Kosuke Fukudome is doing what he needs to do in order to prove that maybe, just maybe, he should get a start or two in October, while Felix Pie and Casey McGehee are working hard to convince Lou and Jim to bend baseball's rules and get them onto the playoff roster. But more impressive was Ryan Dempster, who went 5 innings on 67 pitches and won his 17th game of the season. In his recap, Jason called Clownsevelt the team's ace. Maybe that's stretching it a little far, but at this point I'd argue that it's a no-brainer that Dempster should be starting either Game 1 or Game 2 of the NLDS. No offense to Carlos, but the Cubs are a weirdly fragile team. If they win Game 1, I believe it's their series to lose. If they lose Game 1, I'd worry about a sweep. The Cubs are a team with a 100-year monkey on their back; momentum is everything for them.
On the Post Season Roster:
I attempted to stir discussion in my absence about the post season roster, to total failure. I'll try again now:
The Cubs are a well-rounded team, but they've got a few question areas. First and foremost, if Fukudome is not the team's starting right fielder, then 3 of their 4 middle infielders will be starting games (Fontenot, Theriot, and DeRosa will be on the field, Cedeno will be the, erm, defensive replacement). That means that the Cubs would have to shuffle their players should Aramis Ramirez need to leave a game. The Cubs will need to fill a few key positions between now and the start of the post season, and from now until the 28th are the open auditions.
And, with that, my blog post has sort of petered out. I blame the booze that I started drinking 20 minutes ago. Anyway, let's enjoy the win, let's enjoy the team, and I will leave you with this final thought:
They do not need to reach, or even win the World Series for this to be a fulfilling season. I will not be devastated if they fail. However, should the Cubs be poised to achieve the unbelievable, only to lose due to some fluke play, this season will be as lost to me as '03 has become. Let's hope that that isn't the case. Let's hope for the best. Let's hope for these Cubs.
Smitty, if you're reading this, what do you feel about them now?
This was a game with a little bit of everything. Cubs starting pitcher Rich Harden had no-hit (but unfortunately, not no-walk) stuff. Jim Edmonds demonstrated that even if there's not a whole lot of gas left in the tank, it's still possible to go a while on fumes. Geovany Soto has already accomplished enough to win the Rookie of the Year Award - and today, he cemented the growing evidence that he's the best catcher in the game. Kerry Wood donned his leopard-print leotard and went back up on the wire again. And Derrek Lee thrilled us by taking it all home in the 12th.
First, Rich Harden. Considering the leeway that the home plate ump was giving Milwaukee pitchers, either Harden wasn't getting the same shake or he was really wild. Either way, Chicago Cubs Ace 2.0 Rich Harden only managed to go 5 innings. The Brewers couldn't hit the guy very well - they only got 1 - but he walked 6 of them while also striking out 7. Whatever the reason for his lack of control, he left with a 1 run lead (thanks for the solo homeruns, Jim Edmonds and Aramis Ramirez), but Cubs rookie reliever Jeff Samardzija got beaten like a drum in the 6th after Mark DeRosa made a fielding error. The Brewers notched 3 straight singles, Samardz walked 2 in the inning (3 if you count Prince, who they put on intentionally), and it looked as though the Cubs were not going to cut their magic number down on this day.
The Brewers tacked on an insurance run in the 9th off of Neal "The Luster's Off" Cotts, and it would have been 2 runs but Alfonso Soriano racked up his 10th assist of the season by gunning out J.J. Hardy. Insert link to timely "I love Alfonso Soriano" article here.
Then - then! - in the bottom of the 9th, with our hope extinguished like a candle's flame in the wind, with 2 outs in the fricking inning Jim Edmonds singled in Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa reached also via a single, and Geovany Soto hit what we will refer to as an Epic Home Run.
Now, me, at this point, I'm not watching the game. It's not that I had given up per se, it's just that it was dinner time, I was hungry, and so there was no game for me. When, after dinner, I scampered to a TV and saw what was happening, I immediately got back into the game only to find ...
Kerry Wood, still doing his best Rod Beck, pitched 2 innings tonight. The first inning was one of sheer dominance. He faced 3 batters, he struck them all out, and deciding to let it ride, Lou sent him back out to pitch the 12th. Woody proceeded to surrender a leadoff single, then a double, and only then did he buckle down and get 3 outs.
Look, I'm a huge Kerry Wood fan. I also happen to be a fan of quiet 9th innings. Maybe I jumped the gun a little in the shoutbox, when I essentially said "NO MORE WOOD!" However, I am concerned, because a blown save 2 weeks from now could be season destroying. Now, I'm not sure if it's simply been a long season and Wood is tired, or if perhaps he's seen a little too much inactivity as of late, but Lou needs to get a regimen going in which Kerry is pitching one inning every two days from here until October, no matter the situation. Keep him fresh, keep him rested, and keep him loose. If I see Wood throwing 2 innings again, or back-to-back games again, I'm going to find Lou and I will confiscate his sammich.
Anyway, Woody got out of it, amazingly, and in the bottom of the 12th the Cubs worked some more of that 2 out magic. Darryl Ward drew a leadoff walk, Jason Marquis pinch ran, Reed Johnson bunted him to second, the Fonz was put on intentionally, and, after Ryan Theriot got the second out of the inning, Derrek Lee stepped up.
At this point, I was watching the game intently. I called C. into the room, as she's a huge D.Lee fan, mostly because I knew what was about to happen. When he singled in the winning run and was mobbed by his overjoyed teammates, I was the least surprised person you could've met. The Cubs win, the magic number is reduced, it's time to finish this thing already.
Series Recap: It coulda been a sweep. I'm not complaining, not one bit, but after the Cubs #3 pitcher beat the Brewers ace, and after the Brewers second ace left a game early yesterday, it became this team's series to lose. Thankfully, they didn't.
The Cubs next host the Cardinals. It will be the final series of the season at Wrigley Field. St. Louis is playing the Reds tonight in order to get out of a 7 game losing streak, and whether they win or extend their losing streak, they will be coming to Chicago tomorrow a broken team.
This has been a very fulfilling season. There have certainly been nervous moments, but they have been outweighed by the thrills. I'm looking forward to a clinching victory as early as tomorrow. It will happen soon, folks. Very soon.
Current Record: 92-59
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 9 games in front of Milwaukee and 12 ahead of Houston
Best Possible Record: 103-59
Worst Possible Record: 92-70
On Pace For: 99-63
Magic Number: 2, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com