Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Series Recap

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Game Recap: Cubs 11, Astros 4 - it's just that kind of year

W

If you were a Cubs fan who has lived through 1974, 1980, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2006, then you have seen in this season a Cubs team that's won more games than any of those other Cub teams from those years in 47 fewer games played. Imagine that - the Cubs in the first week of August have already eclipsed Chicago teams that belong in our worst baseball nightmares. It shouldn't give us a feeling of accomplishment; we should be outraged that the Cubs have given us so many wasted seasons.

However, let's take comfort in this - it may not end in the achievment of the ultimate goal, but 2008 does not appear to be another one of those hopeless, wasted years. At the very least, this Cubs team should reach the playoffs, quite possibly with the best record in the National League, and there's a simple reason why. These guys play good baseball and they get big hits. Today was another example of that.

Apparently, Lou Piniella does not read this Cubs blog, to my surprise. If he did, then he might realize the futility that comes with throwing strikes to Carlos "Cliff" Lee. When a Cubs pitcher throws strikes to Carlos Lee, the ball tends to wind up a long ways away from the catcher's mitt, usually by at least 400-or-so feet. In the 3rd inning today, after having surrendered an RBI to Lance Berkman, wonderful* Cubs pitcher Jason Marquis decided that Carlos Lee at the plate with runners on was the equivalent of No Bubbles, No Troubles. He proceeded to deliver to the Astros a 3-run lead on a silver tray, as Lee predictably smacked a 3-run shot into the atmosphere.

(*You don't think Marquis fits the definition of "wonderful?" C'mon, every time he pitches, aren't you filled with wonder about why Jim Hendry saw fit to give him a multi-year contract?)

But, hey, it was okay. It's just that kind of year for the Cubs. They score 4, the Cubs score 4 more. In the bottom of the 3rd, with 2 outs and 2 strikes against him, Mark DeRosa hit a clutch grand slam that was really just the opening card to the main event that is the continued dominance of Alfonso Soriano. (Phew, that sentence was a keyboard-full.) Soriano, who saw his second at bat of the inning thanks to a Fukudome double, a Soto walk, and, more impressive, a double by Marquis, hit another homerun, his 5th since returning from a broken hand*, putting the Cubs in the lead for good. I could almost hear the fight leave the Astros, which was a pretty impressive feat since I was working at the time and I could only follow the game through a sports ticker.

(*Rumor has it that broken hands often cause players to lose power. Maybe that's the case with Soriano, which makes me think that a fully healthy Fonz would be putting up Nintendo Numbers right now. As it is, he's already resembling Roy Hobbs. Luckily for him, Kim Basinger has hit the wall, so he won't have that temptation waiting to toss him back into a month-long slump.)

the Natural
Au Naturale

The Cubs added on to their absurd score in the 4th, giving them 11 runs on the game. All told, the immense Chicago Juggernoffense (I'm coining that phrase, which I'm sure will not be contested since it's pretty lame) had 11 hits, drew 6 walks, and forced an average of 35 tears to trickle down the faces of most Astro fans out there. Jason Marquis went 6.1 innings, looked as mediocore as usual, but still was able to walk away with his 7th win of the season. All told, not a bad day ... or a bad series.

Series Recap:

If the Cubs are able to win 2 out of every 3 games they play this month, then they'll be in a pretty good position come September. As it is, they probably could have swept Houston, but the weather did not cooperate and apparently our Cubs preferred to lose in an offensive sputter rather than win while risking a lightning strike. It's okay, if your friends ask about the near-tornado, just tell them that it was the first seal of the apocalypse cracking open. Forgive me if I'm recycling a joke I've made about six times in the last two days.

The Cubs will now enjoy an off-day before hosting a 3-game set against St. Louis. The Cardinals are perilously on the brink of becoming a non-factor this season. If they lose tonight and tomorrow, then they will be 7 games out of 1st place, and a Cubs sweep will put them in Pittsburgh territory on the year. I'm not saying it'll happen, or even that it's likely to happen, but a Cub fan can wish, right? And, hey, it really might happen. It's just that kind of year.

Current Record: 69-46
Position in the NL Central:
1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and 6 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 116-46
Worst Possible Record: 69-93
On Pace For:
97-65
Magic Number: 43, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com

Series Recap: Cubs 2, Pirates 1

I'll be honest - I missed everything since Friday.  I went on a mini-vacation this weekend, and consequently did not know that the Cubs had won the last 2 games of the series until a few hours ago.   Let's not get too thrilled by it - the Cubs should always, always beat teams as rotten as Pittsburgh.  In fact, I remain disappointed that they failed to sweep.  However, before you think I protest too much, I don't think a Cub fan out there can be upset with the 5 and 6 game leads held over the second and third place teams in the Central right now.

Offensively, in their 2 wins, the cubs combined for 21 hits, 7 walks, and 13 runs scored.  Reed Johnson had a huge Saturday, going 3 for 4 with a double, but he made his biggest impact on Sunday when he hit a 2-run, pinch hit homerun in the 8th.  He was followed that game by Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 19th of the season.

Ted Lilly acheived his 11th win of the season, but Carlos missed out on his 13th as he opted to exit early, his eyes set on the playoffs and staying fresh.  His game was almost spoiled by Chad Gaudin, who was booed mercilessly for his efforts, but who won for the 3rd time since coming to Chicago thanks to Johnson and Soriano's back-to-back homeruns.

Carlos Marmol was wasted on Saturday, pitching a flawless and pointless 9th inning, and he gave Cub fans reasons to be wasted on Sunday, pitching another strong 9th for his 6th save of the season.  He's definitely back on track since the All Star Break, but sweet fancy Jesus, Lou, use him wisely!

And the Cubs now enter Houston, which should be a fine tune-up for the St. Louis series.

Hey, I'm not crazy enough to suggest that this is a definite scenario, but as the Cubs battle a fairly light-weight team, the Cardinals will be squaring off against playoff-bound juggernaut Los Angeles, which I write only somewhat sarcastically*.  If - big if here - the Cubs play well against Houston, and if the Cardinals struggle against the Dodgers, then Chicago will find themselves in the rare and happy position of landing St. Louis an early-August killing blow.  The stars will have to work valiantly to align themselves, but could St. Louis be 10 games out a week from tomorrow?

Nah.  But it surely would be cool. 

(*Damn them for acquiring Manny!   Dammmmnnn theeeeemmmmmmm!!!) 

Current Record: 67-45
Position in the NL Central:
1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and 6 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 117-45
Worst Possible Record: 67-95
On Pace For:
97-65
Magic Number: 46

Game Recap: Cubs 11, Brewers 4; a team to envy

Bernie

Without mercy, without any indication of it being a struggle, in fact, with poise and determination, the Cubs all-out slaughtered the Brewers today.  I think that pretty well sums up any kind of necessary game recap, but let's look a little closer.

Apparently, Jim Edmonds has been reading the news, and he must have learned that Jim Hendry was shopping around for another outfielder, because he responded with 2 hits in 3 at bats - both homeruns, one a grand slam.  Edmonds now has 12 homeruns with the Cubs and remains an amazingly valuable offensive asset.

Perhaps one of the most compelling statistics from today's game was this: after 6 innings, the Cubs had scored 5 runs, all while the 1-4 batters in the lineup had started the game 0 for 10.  On top of the 2 homers by Edmonds, Soriano hit another homerun, as did Fukudome, who went 2 for 4.  Kosuke, who'd been in the throws of a terrible slump - he batted .224 in the month of July - received 14 of his 21 hits this past month after the All Star Break.  He's batting .298 since the break and, hopefully, he's back on track.

However, while the Cubs offense continued to reduce Brewer fans to tears, the story of the night was Rich Harden.  Since coming to the Cubs, Harden had been a tough-luck starter.  However, he managed his first win of the season for Chicago by throwing 7 strong innings, while allowing 6 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 9.  The one run against him was a homer, and Harden how has an ERA of 1.11 with the Cubs.

I briefly discussed his incredible pitching with Jon Miller earlier, and I said that he may have supplanted Carlos as the team's ace.  Jon then asked me who I'd want starting in Game One of a short series, and without hesitation I said "Carlos Zambrano!"  Feel free to disagree with me, but I suspect that few of you will.

Series Recap:

4 games, 4 wins, 31 runs scored against 11 allowed, 49 total hits, 17 walks, and if you listen carefully you can hear the sound of hearts breaking all throughout the land of cheese and beer.  The Cubs entered the series having gone 3-6 since the break, and having seen their lead dwindle to 1 game.  Now, they are 5 games up on either 2nd place team, and they have finished the month of July by going 15-11 in 26 games.  So much for a July swoon.

It's already becoming a philosophical debate here and elsewhere.  Aren't these just your typical Cubs?  They're good enough to tantelize you; hell, they should even be good enough to play in October.  And yet, some people are able to find a fundamental flaw with them - that flaw being, apparently, their inability to win every game (or at least every series) with comfortable dominance.

Here's the thing - no team can do that, but this team has shown that they can do a lot of other things right.  For example:

  • While not defensively flashy, they remain defensively sound.  This is something that we are still not used to, having endured The Dusty Years.
  • On any given day, their 5-8 hitters can light up a team.  I can't emphasize how rare and amazing that is.
  • Top to bottom, even including Marquis, the Cubs have to have one of the best rotations in baseball.   Seriously.  Only Oakland has a better team ERA for its starters, and do you know why that is?  Because they had Rich effin' Harden for the first half of the season!!!  The best team in the AL, the Angels, comes closest in having top-to-bottom quality starters, but the Cubs win pound-for-pound. 
  • Oh, and did we mention the bullpen?  Even with the struggles of Marmol, even without the presence of Wood, the Cubs have a team ERA of 3.99.  Not the best in the league right now, but I don't think we can complain much by the works of Wood, Marmol, Gaudin, and when they're back and healthy, Wuertz and Lieber.  Not to mention the sensation that is Samardzija. 

All of this is my way of simply saying that the Cubs are stacked.  After having beaten the Brewers at home, I for one am strongly looking forward to the coming month.  They have the capability of being 10 ahead of the 2nd place team come September 1st.

And, if that happens - or even comes close to happening - it'll be pretty hard not to believe that these guys are the real deal, and our best chance of ending the World Series drought in any of our life times.  Go Cubs.

Current Record: 65-44
Position in the NL Central:
1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 118-44
Worst Possible Record: 65-97 - the Cubs are now 1 win away from equalling their total number of wins in Baker's last season
On Pace For:
97-65
Magic Number: 49

Game Recap: Cubs 10, D-Backs 6, What the?

 

Cubs - Backs

 

Perhaps the Cubs are confused by this all-or-nothing approach they've been taking to baseball as of late.  They seem to score either 1 run or 10, with little compromise to meet that figure somewhere in the middle.  Last night was a perfect example - after 2 games of offensive druthers, the Cubs scored often, and had a particularly impressive 8th inning in which they scored 6.

They did everything they needed to do.  The Cubs delivered 10 base hits, including homeruns by Derrek Lee and Reed Johnson.  Knowing that his play-time was about to get Duboised, Johnson went ballistic against the 'backs, going 3 for 4 with 4 RBI from his 8th inning Grand Slam.  More importantly, the Cubs as a team drew 5 walks.  At this point, it's safe to say that plate discipline has indeed been an important aspect of the runs this team has scored and the wins they've collected.

Oh, and did we mention that Soriano is back?  He went 1 for 5 in his return, with a double.  Don't get too excited, though.  I will be shocked if he doesn't struggle for at least a week or too.

Meanwhile, Ted Lilly pitched 6 strong innings, allowing 6 hits, walking 3 en route to his 10th win of the season.  His performance would have been for nothing had the Cubs not scored an awful lot of runs in the top of the 8th, as the D-Backs thrust the fork even deeper into Bob Howry, who gave up 3 runs in the bottom half of that inning.

Lou Piniella must have been at his wits end.  The Cubs had a 4-run lead, he clearly was afraid that they'd somehow blow such a close score, and so he called on his super-arm, Carlos Marmol.  Luckily, Marmol buckled down and was able to hold onto that fragile lead, although he gave up a double and a walk before he struck out Chad Tracy to end the game.

Series Recap: Another tough series on the road for the Cubs.  It has become an epidemic for them, and it has to be concerning for any post season hopes.  While it's certainly possible - if not likely - that the Cubs will get there, they have to have the ability to win on the road.

Maybe it's true that they have been stealing signs at home.  Perhaps they've become a little too dependent on it.  Or, maybe their hitting coach should do his job and help guys figure out how to hit.  Just a few thoughts.

Current Record: 59-42
Position in the NL Central:
1st place, 1 games in front of Milwaukee
On Pace For: 95-67
Record needed to win 120: 61-0 - undefeated all the way, baby!

 

D-Backs

 

Game Recap: Cubs 9, Astros 0 - that's more like it

Cubs Win

If we take a look at the final tally of this series in Houston, we will find that the Cubs outscored the Astros 11-6 but still managed to lose 2 of 3 games. It was clearly a frustrating series for Lou Piniella, as he commented after yesterday's game that the Cubs were pretty miserable on the road, at least offensively. For that reason, Lou must have decided that the only true way to retaliate would be in the usual manner - punishing Carlos Marmol by pitching him in a blowout. But hey, after all the beatings the Cubs have been taking, we'll take any kind of win, even if it's a tear-inducing one for Marmol who has to be frustrated by the overuse and abuse he's experienced this season.

Offensively, the Cubs jumped out of the gate quickly thanks to the bat of the overrated Derrek Lee (just ask one of our readers) who went 2 for 5 with 3 RBI. Actually, while it is always nice watching Lee swing the bat well, Kosuke Fukudome is the most important story of the game, at least for me. Our Japanese sensation has looked redonkulous the last few weeks, but he had a respectable day today, getting 2 hits and scoring 2 runs. It'll still be a while before he's officially busted out of his mid-season druthers, but I'm convinced he's capable.

Today's most depressing offensive performance came from Aramis Ramirez. I think that, as Cub fans, we have to better appreciate the fact that, when he's hitting the ball, Ramirez can be just as devastating as Alfonso Soriano. However, like the Fonz, A-Ram can get ice-cold sometimes, too, and he's had some legendary slumps in the past couple of seasons. Take his 0-for-28 streak he had earlier this year, which lasted from June 25th until July 5th. Or his 0-for-14 streak which went from the last game of the regular season last year all the way through the playoffs. Currently, he's in the throws of an 0-for-16 streak. Youch.

However, as Ramirez struggles, growing Cub legend Mike Fontenot had a 3 for 4 day, including a solo homerun in the 5th and a 2-run double in the 9th. Apparently, Fontenot uncovered the secret location of the head of Ted Williams and underwent a brain transplant not too long ago. Or he could just have reached that mythical point in his baseball career where he has the exact right mixture of confidence, ability, and intelligence. Enjoy it while it lasts, Cub fans, be it a year, a month, or a week. Little Babe Ruth is winning games for this team with his bat.

The one mildly concerning offensive fact of today's game: 0 walks. The Cubs drew a collective 1 walk in the last 3 games; maybe it's not too surprising that they didn't exactly set Houston on fire with the fury of their offense.

On the pitching front, Ryan Dempster looked his 0-win road record square in the eye and landed a hard surprise-kick straight in its nads. He went 8 solid innings, giving up only 6 hits and 1 walk while striking out 7. Oh, and did we mention that Carlos Marmol came in to pitch the 9th and delivered a clutch, much-needed 1-2-3 inning to end the game? Yep, the Cubs needed that, as their lead on Houston was tenuous at best. F*****g Lou.

Series Recap: A very brief one because I've got about ten other things I want to do before I go to bed tonight. The Cubs could very well enter the playoffs with the best record in the National League. They could lead all of baseball in runs scored, their pitching could buckle down and put up on of the best ERAs in the game this year, and if they continue to lose regularly on the road, then a World Series victory - not to mention a losing appearance, for that matter - will remain a vague concept to be dreamt of for future seasons.

Current Record: 58-40
Position in the NL Central:
1st place, 2 games in front of St. Louis
On Pace For: 96-66
Record needed to win 120: 62-2

Tejada

Game Recap: Giants 4, Cubs 1 - Not Surprising

 

Loss

 

Welcome to your late Sunday night post extravaganza.  In this article, I will not only:

  • Recap the game and the final series before the break
  • Discuss the younger players on the team

but I will also post the final photoshop of the first half, a biting and scathing commentary on the monterey excess of the Giants and how it's gotten them nowhere so far.  Yep, it's gonna be a good'un.   

So, not surprisingly, Tim Lincecum proved to be unbeatable today.  It's hard to blame Clownsevelt for losing - when facing the opposing team's best pitcher, scoring 2 runs in a game just won't cut it.  

Perhaps the best news of the loss is the continued resurgence of Jim Edmonds, who went 1 for 3 with another run driven in.  He'd been slumping horribly since the start of July, but went 3 for 8 against the Giants with a homer, 2 doubles, and 5 RBI.

Additionally, Chad Gaudin might just become the de facto setup man so long as Marquis remains a Cub and Harden remains healthy.  He pitched another 2 solid innings today, striking out 2 and giving up a single hit.  He only needed 23 pitches - 17 for strikes.  

Ironically, Carlos Marmol has become a de facto All Star as Kerry Wood will be missing the game due to a blister.  By default, this gives the Cubs eight All Stars this season, a team record, even if 2 of the 8 will be watching from the proverbial gurney in the dugout.

Anyway, as far as this goes, I have nothing else to say about this specific game.  It was a dud, but we all sort of expected it to be.  Not even the great Clownsevelt can win them all at home, but he's shown that he'll win most.  

Series Recap:

This was a series of highs and lows.  The Cubs exit with a solid lead in the central and a handful of aces on their squad, although their setup man has proven to be perhaps hopelessly flapped.  I realize that we sometimes get a little bit of flack for not piling onto poor performances - if our readers had it their way, we would have already chucked Derrek Lee and Michael Wuertz into the flames, where they would've been greeted by Aramis Ramirez if one of our less-legendary ex writers had it his way.  So, while Marmol has certainly proven that he can't be trusted, I think it'd be stupid-at-the-very-least to suggest he's pitching with a Rich Hill Brand Fork stuck in him.

All of this is a lesson, by the way.  The Giants had a costly win now mentality for too long, and they're paying for it now.  Consequently, they're also paying from out of their pockets for overpriced players, Zito in particular.  Tell me something, Giants fans, is this the image you really wanted to see this year?

Zito

I think, all told, the final line really says everything that's important:

Current Record: 57-38 (tying them for the best record in all of baseball)
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4.5 games in front of St. Louis
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 63-4

The Cub Youth Movement

But wait, there's even more content to be had! 

A year ago, the Cubs were also making a playoff charge at this time.  They were doing it primarily on the backs of a number of young players - many of whom we now take for granted.  However, let's take a closer look at some of these young studs who have performed so well for the Cubs:

Theriot and Fontenot: Last year, I likened Theriot and Fontenot to Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton.  In '89, Smith and Walton finished back-to-back in the Rookie of the Year vote, as their contributions definitely pushed the Cubs into the playoffs.  Last year, although they eventually tapered off, Theriot and Fontenot were essential players to the success of the Cubs.  Theriot batted .348 with an OBP of .437 last July, which he followed up by batting a more reasonable .276 with a .315 OBP in August, before he eventually fell off the face of the earth in September.  All told, he finished with a .266 AVG and .326 OBP with 28 steals in 32 attempts in his first full season in the majors.  Fontenot did similar work last year, batting .397 in 78 at bats in June with 15 RBI before losing favor with Lou later in the year after he stopped putting up super-human numbers.  Still, Fontenot batted .278 with a .336 OBP in 234 at bats last year.

This season, Theriot and Fontenot are having more successful sophomore seasons.  In about 90 fewer at bats, the 28-year-old Fontenot has 4 more homeruns than he had last season, he's already got 21 RBI, he's drawn 1 less walk, and he's already hit as many doubles.  Theriot, meanwhile, is batting .320 with an OBP of .394 and 15 steals (although he's been caught 9 times) and, in a full 190 fewer at bats, he's already drawn 41 walks compared with last year's total of 49.

As the Cubs continue to succeed, these guys are big reasons why.

Geovany Soto: When Soto was promoted to the majors last year, he'd already set the PCL ablaze.  However, that's a league very notorious for inflated power numbers, and yet the young Soto quickly won the confidence of Lou Piniella by batting .389 with 3 homers and 8 RBI in just 18 games.  In fact, Soto was the primary starter in the NLDS, which has to be unheard of for a young catcher.  

In other words, the Cubs have this season a rookie catcher who's starting the All Star Game and already has playoff experience - and a post season homer.  Pretty weird.  All that said, Soto appears to be the real deal, rather than a mirage of Rick Wilkins-like proportions.   He's hit 16 homers in his first full season, and he is presently on pace for 42 doubles, 28 homers, 99 RBI, and 74 walks.  One small bit of warning - Soto is also on pace to play in 155 games this year.  If Lou doesn't rest him a little more often, then his numbers are going to suffer.

Ronny Cedeno: I'm still harboring hope that he'll be traded, because there's just something about the guy that rubs me the wrong way.  However, at the age of 25, Cedeno does have one odd statistic that looks better than it means - in 130 at bats and in 35 hits, Cedeno has 20 RBI and, hell, he's even got an OBP of .340.  It's been a while since it happened, but for a while there Ronny was getting more clutch hits than Prince has gotten hot trim.  He's won some game for the Cubs, but as Rob would argue, he's about as baseball smart as the guy who reared him, Dusty Baker, and that's problematic.

Sean Marshall: More trade bait.  Last year, Marshall started 19 games for the Cubs.  He went 7-8, he had an ERA of 3.92, and he at times looked, erm, not unimpressive.  This year, Marshall has again at times stepped in as a starter, although he now is pitching out of the pen, and he has an ERA of 3.81 in 28.1 innings of work. 

Maybe Marshall will contribute, maybe he'll be traded, but he's proven to be a not bad player, kind of like Fontenot, Theriot, or Wuertz.  Look at it this way, folks - no team can field nothing but All Stars.

Carlos Marmol: A huge contributor to last year's playoff run, Marmol was as much a guarnatee as prom night action until the past month.  He's already thrown 52.1 innings of work.  I'll say it again - Lou needs to manage him differently.  Even as the Cubs drive forward, Marmol's story will become increasingly interesting.  I hate to toss out that trite cliche, but, it'll be interesting to see what happens.

Game Recap: Reds 12, Cubs 7 - homers kill Cubs

Loss

Apologies, as this will be abbreviated.

Ted Lilly had far from his best stuff today, as he was chased by the Reds after only 2 plus innings of work.  His replacement pitchers were no better - every guy the Cubs turned to allowed at least 1 run scored, from Wuertz and his 4 earned runs to Gaudin and Cotts and their 1 run apiece.  The Reds hit 7 homeruns tonight.  I am comforted by knowing that it's a matter of time before the following image becomes a reality:

Neifi!

Jon Lieber also gave up 2 more runs to the Reds.  Lieber has now allowed 9 earned runs against the Reds in 5 innings of work - that's a cringe-worthy ERA of 16.20.  I am convinced that Lieber owes Dusty considerable gambling debts, and has become his patsy.  Subtract his performances against Cincy, and Jon Lieber has an ERA of 1.81 in 39.2 innings of work.

The Cubs actually managed to score 7 runs again tonight.  I recently noted that they've scored 7 runs in amost 25% of all wins.  This is the second time they've scored 7 in a game they lost.  Mike Fontenot hit another homer and double tonight.  Somebody call up Roy Hobbs and tell him they've found out who stole Wonderboy.

Series Recap: The Cubs were pwned by Cincy today, but they had another series win and they remain 4 games in front of 2nd place Milwaukee.  Chicago has one more series before the break, against the hapless Giants.  

One thing I realized as I write this is that, when I look at projected starters for any given series, I always feel a warm sense of relief when I realize that the Cubs have good starters pitching.  What I realized tonight is that I get that sense of relief in every series, because in any given set, the Cubs are likely to have the better pitcher in at least 2 out of 3 games.  When even your weakest link is on pace to win more games than he loses, you're doing pretty good.

Current Record: 55-37
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4 games in front of Milwaukee
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 65-5

Game Recap: Cubs 7, Cardinals 1 - the pummelling concludes

Cubs Cardinals

Hopefully for the time being, the panic has now subsided. The Cubs entered this series against St. Louis as 1) a crappy road team, 2) a slumping team in general, and 3) a team in need of some wins in order to maintain a distance between them and the second place Cards. They managed to not only accomplish what they needed, but they have actually knocked St. Louis into third! The Cubs now exit St. Louis for Cincinnati as a team 3.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and 3.5 games ahead of the now-second place Brewers (ahead of St. Louis by percentage points).

A statistic that was brought to my attention not too long ago: the Cubs have now played in 89 games. Of their remaining 73 games, they play 16 games against the Cardinals and Brewers. 10 of those 16 games will be played on unfriendly ground, and these game represent a full 22% of all remaining games this year. I suppose we can look at that number in two different ways. Either the Cubs are in for a rocky road because they regularly play the teams closest to them, or, better yet, the Cubs have full control of their own destiny as they play their rival teams often enough to keep them out of the playoffs by merely winning.

They managed to achieve that goal today, largely because of their All Star players. The Cubs scored 7 runs off of 16 hits. All Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez went 2-3 with 3 RBI. All Star catcher Geovany Soto hit a solo homerun - his 15th of the season. All Star right fielder Kosuke Fukudome went 1 for 2 and scored a run. All Star starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano glared at the Cardinals from the dugout. It was great!

The Cubs got contributions from the non-All Stars, too. Ryan Theriot - who was in the top 3 in votes and perhaps could have been an All Star - went 3 for 5. Derrek Lee - who also was a top vote-getter in a crowded position - also went 3 for 5 with a double. Mark DeRosa - another big vote-getter - went 2 for 4 with an RBI.

On the pitching front, Sean Marshall did what he had to do. He went 6 innings on 88 pitches, allowing 6 hits, walking 1, striking out 4, and permitting only 1 run to score - a Ludwick solo shot. He was succeeded by the surprisingly effective Neal Cotts, who struck out 2 and has worked his ERA down to 2.57 on the year. Marmol followed - Marmol being another guy who was almost a sure-fire All Star a few weeks back - and he needed only 10 pitches (7 for strikes) to escape the 8th unscathed. And Bob Howry delivered a soundless, boring 9th, no bubbles no troubles.

Series Recap:

All things considered, it was a successful series. Even Albert Pujols - who certainly wasn't showing his age by going 5-11 in the 3 games against the Cubs - wasn't enough to win it for the Cardinals.

Old Albert

It's exciting to note that the Cubs will have so many more important games against top rivals in the second half. I realize that so many games against the Cardinals and Brewers might evoke panic from some Cub fans, but you know what? We didn't need 7 All Star selections and about 4 near-misses to figure out that this is an outstanding team. I am confident that the Cubs will reach the playoffs, and I don't think it's going to come down to the last day of the season, or even the last week. The Cardinals will soon realize that they are built in part on the arms of converted relievers and the bat of a converted pitcher, and they will return to the median. It's the Brewers who will be a threat through August and September, and they are thankfully managed by Shemp Yost*. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling good about this team.

(*That's a photoshop waiting to happen.)

Current Record: 53-36
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 3.5 games ahead of St. Louis and Milwaukee
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 67-6 (okay, fine, so it's not gonna happen, as if that's a shock to anybody but Carlos)

Game Recap: Orioles 11, Cubs 4; never in doubt

L

How do you lose to a man named Liz? It was a question for the ages, one which we believed could never be answered. Turns out that we were wrong. Jason Marquis, the Human Rosetta Stone (he'll crack the code of Suck in three dead languages, just watch him pitch) threw with ineptitude today, leading the Cubs to a rare home-series defeat.

It's okay. With four games to go this month, the Cubs have already met my "we'll be okay if they win X games this month" expectations. But it was still painful watching the Cubs squander early opportunities and surrender a copious amount of runs. For instance - the 2nd inning. Radhames Liz took a page out of Carlos Marmol's discarded book and loaded the bases off of one hit. And one HBP, and one walk. He then proceeded to take a page out of George Sherrill's book and induced a fielder's choice and fouled out Eric Patterson.

Following this momentously squandered opportunity, Baltimore took time between high-fiving themselves for having escaped a close one and proceeded to repeatedly display their dominance of Jason Marquis. With two outs in the inning, Marquis intentionally walked the #3 hitter Nick Markakis*, which promptly backfired as he unintentionally walked home a run before Aubrey Huff - who apparently felt inspired by my man-love - doubled in 2 runs, followed by a Jay Payton 2 RBI single before the Cubs managed to limp out of the inning.

(*Imagine if you will an outfield including Markakis and Fukudome, with the great Harry Caray calling the game. That would be must-see TV.)

After allowing 2 more runs in the 4th, Jason Marquis departed for Jon Lieber, who continued the hurting by allowing another run to score. And then, some more runs scored - 3 in the 6th off of the Eyre/Wuertz duo. Now, I knew this would happen. Any time you take a player of debatable ability and defend him, he's bound to immediately do exactly what people were criticizing him about. However, while Wuertz definitely filled the "From Bad to ..." quotient today, even his harshest detractors will have to acknowledge one thing: it cost the Cubs nothing. This game was over the second Jason Marquis crapped the bed in the 2nd.

The Cubs managed to get some offense once Baltimore decided to rest up, and they eventually managed to score 4 runs. 2 of those 4 runs were driven in by Eric Patterson, which just proves that at a glance, anybody can look good. Keywords: at a glance. Patterson had 2 RBI, he could've/should've had closer to 4 or 5, and had he capitalized on his bases loaded chance in the 2nd, it could've/should've been a much different ballgame.

Marquis now finds himself at 6-4, and where his ERA had almost crept to under 4 before this game, it has now climbed its way back up toward 5. So much for the Marquis de Resurgent. Oh well, at least he - and the relievers - managed to keep a lid on Cintron. (Cue photoshop)

Cintron

Series Recap: Definitely a disappointing set. The Cubs have been hit-and-miss against the AL, and it's a little disappointing that Baltimore was able to come to Wrigley and play so well. So much for the rumors that the Cubs are stealing signs. On the bright side, the Tigers beat the Cardinals in 10, so the Cubs remain 4.5 games ahead of the 2nd place team in the central. With four games left to go, this has been a pretty good month for Chicago, all things considered. If - big if - they can continue to dominate the White Sox, then they will not just have met my "must-win" expectations ... they will have exceeded them.

Current Record: 49-30
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4.5 games ahead of St. Louis
On Pace For: 101-61
Record needed to win 120: 71-12

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