"Can the Cubs play well enough against the good teams to win in the playoffs?" This is the most recent pointless hypothetical that's been dancing on our keyboards as of late. The ridiculously simple answer is that we won't truly know until we see them play good teams in the playoffs. But much as Friday's doooom game meant nothing because the doom happened against pitchers who won't be in a position to lose in the post season, yesterday's shiny-lining game means just as little. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing either of those games meant were the loss and win they represented in the standings, and the only impact they'll have is on whether or not the Cubs win the division or not.
This morning (or perhaps late last night) one Goat Reader asked if I've ever seen a Cubs-Cards game in St. Louis. I assume he asked me that because he wants to impact upon me the significance of how pressure-filled and energized those games are. True -- absolutely true -- home field advantage exists, and playing in a hostile park can either serve as fuel for players to step it up or fodder for them to make excuses after a loss. But I believe that, in most cases, the impact of those situations are left behind once the team moves on to play their next series. In other words, the Cubs could go to St. Louis, get demoralized by the fans, swept by the Cardinals, and on their next game in Pittsburgh have just as good a chance of winning as they would have had they swept the Cardinals previously.
So, I say to you again, the significance of a single game impacting a season is nil, except in cases where a loss puts a team out of playoff contention. And if you disagree with that, then prove me wrong. I've been wrong before, I'll be wrong again, just find your proof and shut me up.
Ryan Theriot, Kosuke Fukudome, Milton Bradley -- Two former members of the Questionable Quartet and Theriot are leading the way right now with the Cubs. It is perhaps fitting, then, that these guys are usually at the top of the batting order -- and it's about effin' time that Lou moved Bradley there considering how disciplined he's been even as he's struggled with his stroke. Theriot is batting .333 with a .364 OBP, Fukudome is batting .316 with a .458 OBP, and Bradley is at .364 with an OBP of .563 in the past week. Yeesh.
Aramis Ramirez, Jake Fox -- A-Ram is batting .056 in the past week while Fox is at .091. Ouch.
As the stressed-out Cubs fan seeking to keep the cliff-jumpers at a dull murmer when they voice their opinions about the team, I can only hope for another Cubs win today. It seems as if the reactionary crowd is looking to sink their hooks into every loss as evidence of calamity, and so even though I don't agree with it, my stomach would do better if indeed the Cubs proved them briefly wrong with another win.
I suppose that if we were their opposites, any time the Cubs did win -- particularly in a come-back against a potential playoff opponent -- we'd be crowing about how they are clearly World Series bound -- and, believe it or not, we'd probably have just as much "proof" as they do about our claim. Just thought for fodder.
The Cubs suffered a blow last night when Carlos Zambrano was scratched form this start. In the end, Big Z was placed on the DL and could miss a few starts, but the Cubs hope it is just one.
Tonight the Cubs face their former mate Jason Marquis, who is due for his second half meltdown any time now. Marquis has only had one month where his ERA was north. He was pretty great in July with a 1.93 ERA and an All-Star selection. The Cubs are hoping the old Marquis shows up and gives up 10 runs.
Milton Bradley/Kosuke Fukudome - You think the Cubs would have fared better last night with their top two guys in the lineup getting on base six times. Bradley and Fukudome both went 1-for-2 with two walks each, but the Cubs only scored two times.
Cubs on the DL - I mean this is getting nuts. The Cubs get Geovany Soto off the DL, and Carlos Zambrano gets put on the DL. Who's next?
The Cubs 3-4-5 Hitters - Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto combined to go 0-for-11 last night. The Cubs won't win many games with that kind of production.
Sean Marshall as a starter - Marshall was put in a tough spot last night and we was hit pretty bard. Hopefully, he will continue to shine in the bullpen the rest of the season.
The Cubs, once again, find themselves one game back of the Cardinals. So, winning tonight might make things easier.
The Cubs open a 4-game series against the Rockies tonight that is pretty huge. The Rockies, who have played out of their mind since firing Clint Hurdle, set in front of the Cubs for the Wild Card, but still trail the Giants. The Rockies are club that really scares me, and the Cubs need to show some offense after Wednesday's dud.
So, the Cubs will welcome back Geovany Soto tonight. That means Koyie Hill will see some time off for at least a couple games. I have a feeling that he will start either Sunday or Monday, depending on the match up. Any bets on who is sent down when Soto is activated tonight?
In other news, the Cubs will not replace Kevin Gregg with B.J. Ryan. Ryan was let go, but I'm sure he will pick up with sombody soon. The Cubs just didn't need to try and add another left after picking up John Grabow, which is fine with me.
In a piece of shocking news, Jake Fox still does not have a spot to call home. Wow, talking about beating a dead horse. The one great thing about Fox playing so well is that the Cubs will probalby be able to get some serious value for him in the offseaon if they choose to go that route.
Carlos Zambrano is also taking the mound, after only lasting three innings his last time out. This start will be big for a few reasons. First, Z needs to show that he is healthy. Second, the Cubs really need to take Game for some momentum. The Cardinals are taking it easy in Pittsburgh, so wins are very important this weekend to keep pace in the NL Central.
Derrek Lee - Lee keeps reminding those Micah Hoffpauir supporters that he is still the man at first base. He's hitting .333 with a .926 OPS in his last six games.
Kosuke Fukudome - He did have a home run the other days, but he's only 4 for 20 in his last six games. On the flipside, he does have five walks.
Alfonso Soriano - In his last six games, Soriano is 3 for 19 with 0 HRs, 0 2B and 0 RBI. How many 0's are we paying this guy?
The Cubs are entering a tough stretch that includes the Phillies. That makes this series very important. Maybe the thin air can get the Cubs hot again. They are 3-3 on the road trip so far, and a 6-4 trip would be pretty great.
Rich Harden (7-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. Justin Lehr (0-0, 5.40 ERA)
In the shadow of a surging Cardinals team, the Cubs are poised to sweep another team on the road -- this time being the Reds, in what is surely Dusty Baker's swan song as a major league manager.
Pitching for the Cubs is Rich Harden, who's had a less-than-fantastic walk year although he's stayed healthier than anybody could've imagined. On the mound for the Reds is Justin Lehr, a journeyman who is back to the majors for the first time since 2006, when he had an 8.62 ERA with the Brewers. Tonight will mark only his second career start.
Re-joining the Cubs today is legendary slugging second baseman Aaron Miles, best known for his epic clutch skills. The Cubs have cut down to 12 pitchers to make way for him, with more tough roster decisions to be made this weekend when Geovany Soto returns to the team.
The incredibly awesome Mike Fontenot - Fontenot is indesputibly the most universally loved Cub, thanks in part to his David vs. Goliath demeanor, coupled with his keen defensive skills and wavy, flowing hair. As usual, Fontenot's production has been tied into the Cubs' success -- their recent winning ways can certainly be attributed first and foremost to his .306 AVG in the past week of play. On top of that, his first-at-bat double last night was huge for the team. The once and future team MVP has an OPS of 1.056 over the past 7 days and will surely continue to put up huge numbers in the coming games.
Jake Fox - Okay, this one is subjective. He's only 4 for his last 17, but 3 of those 4 hits have been homeruns. So far this year ESPN has him on pace for 256 at bats, for which he is projected to compile 19 doubles, 19 homeruns, and 63 RBI. Granted, he hasn't had as much to do with the team's success as Fontenot, but he has certainly earned the right to remain on the team for the remainder of the season.
Derrek Lee - He's 9 for his last 30 (.300 AVG) with 5 extra base hits in that span. Not to mention the fact that, in 270 fewer at bats, Lee has already surpassed last year's homerun total while grounding into only 5 double plays.
The Cubs bullpen - For a while there they were efficient and reliable. Now they're back to their old, gut-wrenching tricks. Since July 31st, the bullpen has surrendered 15 runs in 15.2 innings of work, which doesn't even count the runs tacked onto the starters' tabs. Indeed, I don't feel particularly confident about any of those guys replacing Gregg.
The bullpen needs to shape up; Harden needs to consistently get outs, and the Cubs offense needs to pick up the slack so that Fontenot is no longer carrying them on his admittedly broad shoulders.
Oh, and I hope Cub fans brought their sweepin' brooms to Cincinnati. I've got a feeling they may get to use them tonight.
Tom Gorzelanny (3-1, 5.19 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (8-8, 4.06 ERA)
I have mixed feelings about this game - and the rest of the Cubs games against the Reds. On one hand, for two reasons I'm hoping the Reds get crushed. First, Cincinnati is on a downward spiral and the Cubs need to take advantage of their collapsing opponent. Second, I don't hate the Reds and if the Cubs can continue to put the hammer to them, they just might fire Dusty Baker and salvage their franchise before he runs more of their young arms onto the surgeon's table.
On the other hand, I'm almost hoping that the Reds pull out of their nose-dive and manage to win just enough games to keep Dusty his job, if only because it's one less team to worry about in the Central. But like I said, I don't hate Cincy and I pity their fanbase for living under the shadow of such a terrible manager.
Regardless, if the Reds win any it will be tonight's. Tom Gorzelanny -- whom some of us were hoping would be on his way to some other team for a middle infielder -- makes his debut for the Cubs. Before his struggles and injuries last year, Gorzo was an up-and-coming lefty starter with a lot of promise, going 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA in 2007. Maybe he'll still meet that promise in a Cubs uniform, but I'm not holding my breath.
His opponent tonight is the young, talented Johnny Cueto, whose arm is probably aching for Dusty Baker to get fired. Just a month ago Cueto was 8-4 with a 2.69 ERA. Since then, he's gone 0-4 with a 10.32 ERA. Maybe the Reds need to entertain shutting the 23-year-old pitcher down for a while.
Kosuke Fukudome -- He recently spent a week with his old batting coach from Japan. The result has been nothing short of spectacular. Fukudome has batted .364 in his 55 at bats since the All Star Break. That production includes 6 doubles, 2 triples, and 13 walks to go along with his 20 hits -- giving him an OBP of .485. Put it to you another way; Kosuke has a .447 OBP as a leadoff man this year.
Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot, Aramis Ramirez, Jake Fox, and Andres Blanco have all put up an OPS of .943 or better in the past week. That production equates to 7 homers and 26 RBI.
Alfonso Soriano -- The slumbering giant has, after a brief stretch, rolled back over and gone back to sleep. Sori has spent the past week whiffing a lot again, not that his few hits haven't been huge. Of course, whether he hits well or not doesn't matter. Cub fans will hate him regardless, because apparently we are stoopid.
The Reds are presently 11.5 games behind the first place Chicago Cubs. Whether the Cubs pound them or not, this is probably Dusty's last hurrah. Odds are, it will be a lot closer than we might expect. Unless Cueto is in fact nursing an injury, he's bound to do better than his 10+ ERA. Unless Gorzo is pitching like his old self, the Reds are bound to take him for a few rides. Either way, whether the two teams combine to score 20 runs or 6, I suspect that the game will end in a save situation.
We all know that Kevin Gregg has had a rough couple days. Do you want can cure that feeling? A nice blowout victory over the Reds today and everything will just fine.
Yes, Gregg's looked bad the last two days, but he's not going anywhere, according to Lou. I stand by comments that Gregg will be just fine in the closer role. He's been pretty solid up until his return to Florida. He's not the best in the world, but he is not the worst either.
In other news, the Cubs can pull back into a first place tie tonight with a win over Aaron Harang, who likes to give up HR's. In his last 12 starts, he has given up 14 HR's. This is just what the Cubs need after a tough start to the road trip.
The Cubs, or the rest of the NL Central, will not be facing Edison Volquez the rest of the seaon. He's went under the knife and is out for the next 12 months. That probably ends the Reds remote chances of making it to the playoffs this year.
Jake Fox - Can we play this man everyday? He's not caught Milton Bradley in HR's and passed him in RBI. In this last six games, Fox has two walks, three HR, and six RBI.
The Lefties - John Grabow and Sean Marshall have combined for 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Granted, Marshall did allow some runs to score that were charged to Carlos Marmol. Overall, it's not too bad.
Alfonso Soriano - Just when we thought he was really heating up, Sori's gone and got cold again. He's got 4 hits in his 23 at bats.
Kevin Gregg - The closer has an ERA of 8.00 since the All-Star break. We need to clean that up a little bit.
The Cubs could really use a sweep in this series, but they really need to focus on taking Game 1. I'm sure the Red would love to see Harang throw a good game, so they could trade him next week to somebody. I say the Cubs pound him, so the Reds are stuck with Dusty's latest pitcher he has run into the ground.
Ryan Dempster (5-5, 4.31 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (7-7, 5.24 ERA)
Well, Games 1 and 2 have been very interesting to say the least, but the Cubs still have a chance to win the series. To do that, the Cubs need a better performance out of Ryan Dempster.
Dempster was not sharp in his last outing, but of course he was just coming off the DL. According to Lou, Dempster had to take that start, because the Cubs did not have another option. Hopefully, one start was enough for Dempster to get tuned up.
Nolasco has been sharp of late, Since being recalled in June, he's lowered his ERA almost 3 runs. In his last two starts, he's given up 2 runs in 13 1/3 innings.
In other news, ESPN is slowly becoming my most hated network. They are now coming up with a new Documentry about Steve Bartman.
I mean, can we please give this story a rest? It is pretty crazy that this is still going on six years later. There is no way that game came down to Bartman.
The Cubs were dealt a couple blows last night with Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez leaving the game early. The Cubs say there was nothing wrong with either guy. It probably means Jake Fox will get a start today at 3B.
Derek Lee - Lee had four hits and three RBI yesterday, including the game-winning HR in the 10th.
Ryan Theriot - Theriot came off the bench last night and picked up two hits, including his 2-run triple in the 9th.
Jeff Samardzija - AJ said this morning that he expects Jeff to shipped to Iowa, and I think he's right.
Kevin Gregg - That was a rought outing for the closer. He gets a couple runs of support and then gets the first two outs in the inning. Well, Carlos Marmol is not really breathing down his neck, so lets hope that it was just a one game blow up.
Unless you live in Chicago or Miami, you will not be seeing today's game thanks to Florida's crazy 5 p.m. start of the game. That means it gets blacked out on MLB Extra Innings. The Cubs could really use a good start to the trip before heading up to Ohio.
Carlos Zambrano (7-4, 3.36 ERA) vs. Burke Badenhop (5-4, 3.46 ERA)
The Cubs fell back to second place last night after the bullpen chose to explode, well Carlos Marmol chose to stop throwing strikes. It's not a big deal, the Cubs still are up in the loss column, and they still have a chance to take the series.
Carlos Zambrano heads back to the bump for the Cubs. Carlos is 3-1 in July with a 2.63 ERA, and has been pitching much better of late. The Cubs need a quality outing out of Big Z since Rich Harden only went 5 innings last night
There is not a whole lot of other news going on in world of the Cubs. The waiver trading period starts today, and it will be interesting to see how the Cubs act during this month. The Cubs only glaring need is at 2B, but it seems the platoon of Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot will continue for the time being.
The Cubs were also terrible with runner's in scoring position last night. The Cubs only had six chances and they came up empty in every single one of those chances.
Jake Fox - Fox picked up his 8th HR and 25th and 26th RBI last night. He only had one hit, but it was big at the time. I have a feeling that Fox might be a little bit of trade bait in the offseason.
Aramis Ramirez - Another day, two more hits. Granted they were both singles, but he keeps hitting and that is what matters.
Carlos Marmol - It was just one outing, but it was rough.
Top 2 in the order - Ryan Theriot and Kusoke Fukudome went a combined 0-for-8 last night. The Cubs are not going to win many games with that happening.
The Cubs are not going to win every night, but it would be nice to take Game 1 of a series. They are now .5 game back again in the NL Central and 1 game out of the Wild Card. I have a feeling it is going to come down to the very end.
Rich Harden (7-6, 4.55 ERA) vs. Chris Volstad (8-9, 4.44 ERA)
The Cubs are once again in first place thanks to a comeback victory by the Dodgers last night in St. Louis. After St. Louis struck for Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo, the Cubs went out yesterday and dealt for John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny.
The move has been discussed at length, but it probably helped the team. For one, it does give the Cubs another arm in the bullpen to go along with Sean Marshall, even if he gets out right handers better than lefties. The Cubs should get better on their own over the next few weeks with Ted Lilly, Geovany Soto and Reed Johnson coming back.
Tonight's game starts a long road trip for the Cubs. They make trips to the Marlins, Reds and Rockies, and this is a very important time for the Cubs to continue to play well.
Rich Harden heads to the bump tonight, and it will be interesting to see how he pitches at night after all the fuss the last few weeks. Harden's been great since the All-Star brek. In three starts, he's 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA with 21 strikeouts and two walks. Harden's lack of walks have been the key for him, but that's true of any pitcher.
Aramis Ramirez - The "Real" Aramis Ramirez is back, and maybe stronger than ever. Ramirez has crushed the ball of late with a .520 average with four HR's and 10 RBI. That translates to a 1.746 OPS during the streak.
Kosuke Fukudome - It is no shock to see the Cubs turn things around when Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano starting to hit. In his last 7 games, Fukudome is hitting .409 with a 1.109 OPS.
Milton Bradley - He's still hitting a lot of singles, but he does have two home runs in the last week. His line in the last week of .333/.483/.619 is showing real signs of improvement. Overall, his OPS is up to .776. Still not great, but getting better.
Mike Fontenot - I really thought the Cubs would make a deal for a 2B, but it does not look like it is going to happen. Even with his two hits yesterday, Fontenot's still just 3-for-17 in his last six games.
The Cubs have traditionally struggled with the Marlins, but they did take 3 of 4 back in April during a homestand. Hopefully, the Cubs can find a way to take 2 of 3 this weekend.
In one corner we have the Astros, the hottest team in the NL Central this month, battling to stay above .500. In the other corner we have the Cubs, the sleeping giant of the Central, who are -- we hope -- on a meteoric rise to the top of the division and then to playoff glory. And if anybody thinks it'll be that easy, then maybe the Cubs aren't the only ones who've been sleeping through this season.
Don't get me wrong. It's been great to finally experience a month of good baseball. It's been fantastic to finally see the Cubs alone in first place above even the pesky Cardinals and their dastardly attempts to acquire good players to compete. It'll surprise few of us if the Cubs get back there again soon. Hell, maybe they'll even stay there for a while -- like, the rest of the season -- but underperforming teams don't just suddenly wake up, shove away the clouds of mediocrity, and rain fire on their opponents. There are bound to be roadbumps. There are sure to be more tough losses, and agonizing injuries, and instances of total, unending doubt.
But, c'mon. Aside from the Fontenot-Baker Connection, these guys are actually pretty good.
Today's Good Guy is Kevin Hart, who I'd feel a lot better about if only he hasn't walked something like twice as many guys as he's struck out. Maybe it's a Maddux thing -- early in his career, the greatest pitcher of our era was afraid to throw inside with a full count -- and Hart is just skittish about his stuff, or maybe he's just wild. But the sooner he gets it under control -- pun intended -- the better the Cubs will be, especially since they are going to miss Lilly for the better part of a month and Hart's the go-to replacement guy.
Pretty much the entire Cubs offense - Hey, so far they've scored 28 runs this series. Isn't that a little more like it? The only guy to go hitless yesterday was Kosuke Fukudome, who is unfortunately going to be called upon to face lefties a lot more often now that Reed Johnson (affectionately known as Vag Face to the HJE crowd) has broken his foot.
(Seriously, what is it with Cub injuries this year? It really does appear to be like 2004 all over again, we should write a comparisson article about it sometime. Hey Goat Riders, any volunteers?)
Then again, Fukudome, probably should be able to hit lefties, he is getting paid a lot of money for it. But just to be on the safe side, maybe Jim Hendry should add "right-handed backup center fielder" to his non-existent Trade Deadline Needs list.
Aaron Heilman - I tend not to put pitchers on this list, mostly because I'm lazy. But Heilman is definitely in the Cub fan doghouse right now, at least with me. I'm still wondering what he would've been like as a starter - he sure did look good this Spring - but as a reliever, he's a turd to be used only in blow-outs.
Despite the questionable nature of Hart's ability to pitch in the big leagues, I still like the team's chances today. The Cubs appear to be a team on the rise. Then again, before this series so did the Astros, and they won't drop out of competition if they lose today.
But as we've pointed out a few times on this site, the Cubs upcoming schedule isn't easy. A win today, while not falling in the must category, would be advantageous.