Mike Hampton (6-7, 4.74 ERA) Randy Wells (6-4, 3.10 ERA)
After the brutal beating the Cubs received last night, I'm sure there are plenty of fans out there wondering if the recent 5-game winning streak was only a mirage. (Rob: Nah, it was just a bad Dempster night) Perhaps the Cubs aren't very good, as we thought previously? Maybe they can't stay competitive with the Cardinals, who appear hellbent on winning the division?
Meanwhile, hot on their heels are the Astros -- the team they're trying to beat this weekend. Houston has probably surprised nobody more than themselves with their continued competitiveness -- they're only 2.5 games out.
Pitching for them today is Can't-Believe-He's-Still-Active Mike Hampton, who'll take on rookie mehsation Randy Wells -- who's only a "meh"sation because of how quietly he's achieved his success. I'll tell you this -- if Wells continues to win his games an indeed ends the season with an ERA in the low 3's, then he will deserve strong Rookie of the Year consideration. But I'm pretty sure that he's not even on anybody's radar for that just yet. But go ahead and take a gander at the NL -- this league is not exactly sick with competition this season, at least not among the rookies. Wells may just have a shot.
Aramis Ramirez - 15 for 44 since the break, batting .341 with 4 homers and 11 RBI. I swear to gawd, Cub fans are such dopes sometimes. Of course his immediate return from the DL looked ugly -- a player can't miss months of a season and then reappear as hot as he was when he left. And his recent outburst of offensive hotness doesn't mean he won't slump again sometime either ... but Ramirez is playing as if he's not down a gear, to the shock of doomcriers everywhere.
Derrek Lee - Ramirez isn't alone. D.Lee is 15 for 42 since the break, batting .357 with 3 homers and 7 RBI. Remember, folks, Lee was supposed to be washed up this season. He was, at the age of 33, over the hill. His 27 double plays last year was proof that he was somehow losing his ability, despite his otherwise good offensive numbers. So far in 2009 Lee has hit into 23 fewer double plays than he did last season, while already matching '08's total output for homeruns. Good thing the Cubs didn't give him up for Hoffpauir.
Alfonso Soriano - The Fonz is 17 for his last 44, making him a .386 hitter with 4 homers and 12 RBI during that timeframe. Not bad for another guy who is supposedly washed-up. While the Fonz is bound to finish the year with numbers below his career averages, he has dispelled concerns that he can't get hot and, best yet, he's one good month away from pushing the ugly first half of the '09 campaign out of our memories.
Kosuke Fukudome - Fooky is 15 for his last 38, a .395 AVG. Rob is right in that Kosuke is not the player we were all hoping for, but he remains a defensive marvel in the outfield and he actually appears to be a competent leadoff hitter. Not to mention -- for what it's worth -- the fact that across the board he's performing better in 2009. His AVG is presently 12 points higher, his OBP is 20 points higher, his OPS is 80 points higher, he's already hit more triples, he's 4 doubles shy of last year's total, and he's within 3 homeruns from matching his rookie output. So what, he's not Ichiro or even Matsui, he's still a helluvalot better than Corey Patterson was.
Ryan Theriot - Before his recent 0 for 9 spell, his numbers weren't so bad. He'd hit safely in 8 straight games, and in 16 of his last 17. Still, he's mostly been collecting singles, having only hit 1 double and 1 triple since the NL was crushed at the All Star Break. Theriot is 12 for 49, batting .245, and needing a big day sometime soon.
Three Finger Hill - Rob, you miss Geo Soto yet? (YES!!) Hill is batting 7 for his last 42 (.167). Maybe Lou should entertain letting Fox catch a few more games, as Three Finger is just a little too Bakoesque for my tastes. (Hill wishes he could hit like Bako)
Mike Fontenot - Let's just bury the Fontenot-as-starter experiment once and for all. Fontenot is batting 7 for his last 33, a .212 clip. At this point, I'm not only hoping that Jim Hendry is, in his possible death rattle, shaking off one last magical trade for a new and improved second baseman -- preferrably, a trade that includes Fontenot himself, as I'm tired of his lack of production. (Dirty Sanchez, anyone?)
The Cubs should enjoy feasting off Mke Hampton while Randy Wells needs to strongly consider walking Carlos Lee intentionally and often. I may have sung Randy's praises earlier in this article, but the truth is that he's been an average starter at-best this month, posting a 4.06 ERA despite his 4-1 record.
Regardless, the last time Randy faced Houston he threw 6 scoreless innings en route to the second of those seven consecutive winless starts. So far this year he's beaten the second time out both teams that he's faced twice, the Braves and Reds. Here's rooting for three.
The Cubs have won five in a row, and now they get Ryan Dempster off the DL.
Dempster, who hopefully won't be jumping over any more fences, has missed a few starts, but the Cubs haven't missed a beat. Actually, the Cubs have played their best baseball of the season.
The Cubs are not suspecting much out of Dempster tonight since he did not go on any rehab assignment. They plan on limiting his pitch count tonight to around 85. This would normally be fine, but the Cubs had to play 13 innings last night. The good part was that Angel Guzman and Kevin Gregg didn't pitch last night, and Sean Marshall only threw 1/3 of an inning.
Tonight's game is the toughest match up of the three remaining, but a win here and the Cubs will have a great chance of taking two of three.
The trade deadline keeps getting closer, and the rumors keep flying around baseball. It looks like more and more that the Cubs will add something. Maybe a lefty? Will anybody else in the Central make a move? The Brewers are four games back, and the Astros are now three back.
Derrek Lee - Lee took a day off and comes back and hits another home run. He's got 20 now, which matches last year's total. He could end up with 30 before it is all said and done. Does anybody still think he shouldn't be playing first?
Aramis Ramirez - Ramirez picked up three more hits last night, and scored on Sori's grand slam.
Reed Johnson and Ryan Theriot - The top two guys in the order went a combined 0-for-12 last night.
Mike Fontenot - Uggh. I have a feeling Mike's time starting is coming to a close, and he didn't even start last night. He did go 0-for-2, and is 1-for-20 in his last five games.
The Cubs battled last night and got the win, but a win tonight would be even better. It would put the Cubs eight games over .500 for the first time all season.
Wandy Rodriguez (10-6, 2.72 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (7-4, 3.48 ERA)
The Cubs are in first place. That is the biggest and best story line of the season. After months of losing and not hitting, the 2009 Cubs have found a way to get to the top of the heap in the NL Central. To stay up on top, the Cubs must continue to hit and pitch well.
There are still few rumors when it comes to the Cubs and the trade deadline. There is talk of a lefty in the pen. There is also talk the Cubs and Pirates are talking.
The Cubs will probably make a move, but I highly doubt the Cub faithful will be jumping up and down about the deal.
Needless to say, the Cubs are playing well heading into the series with the Astros, but this is still a big test. The Cubs have beat up on bad teams since the break, but now it is time to show that they can beat teams that are playing well.
Kevin Gregg - Our closer gave up 11 earned runs in the months of April and May. Since then, he's given up 7 earned runs in 26 innings, and picked up 15 saves. There is a direct connection between the Cubs moving up the standings and the bullpen getting better, and Gregg's been pretty good of late.
Milton Bradley - I'm going to give Milton a little good news for once. He's 2-for-3 in his last two games with a HR and three runs scored and two walks. Overall, his OBP is up to .382, which is only behind Aramis Ramirez on the team (Plus we know Aramis missed two months).
Alfonso Soriano - Two more hits and his average is up to .253. His OPS (.760) is climbing as well, which is what we pay him for.
Derrek Lee's neck - This is probably going to be an issue all season, but at least Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir are on the team, instead of Phil Nevin.
Mike Fontenot - Just when we thought he was breaking out of the slump, Fontenot goes 1-for-18 in his last five games. If the Cubs do make a move, I bet it's to bring in a 2B.
This a tough match up for the Cubs. Wandy Rodriguez has given the team fits this season, but if the offense can put together a few runs it should be a Cub win tonight.
Micah Owings (6-10, 5.33 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (6-6, 4.76 ERA)
The Cubs have won 9-of-12 and all of the sudden find themselves just a 1/2 game behind the Cardinals for the NL Central lead. It really is amazing when you really think about it some. We all know that this season has not been the easiest to watch, but the Cubs hung around and nobody put them away. The team still has a lot of flaws, but getting to first place would be a huge hurdle for the team this late in the season.
Yesterday, the Cubs offense broke out once again thanks to Aramis Ramirez, and Kevin Hart did what he had to do. With Ted Lilly on the DL, my guess is that Hart gets a couple more starts, unless Jim Hendry deals for a starter. Even if that doesn't seem likely at this point.
In other news, it looks like Milton Bradley isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I didn't think the trade was likely, and maybe Milton wanted to show something with his PH home run yesterday. The Cubs need him to start to hitting, because I can't imagine who they would get to replace him. There has been a lot of complaining about Milton, but he's still got a .377 OBP.
On the mound, Rich Harden has to pitch in a day game since Lilly was scratched from yesterday's start. After a rough start to July, which saw his ERA rise to 5.47 at one point, Rich has turned in two solid performances. A third one here, and the Cubs could go into next week in first place.
Aramis Ramirez - He only had one hit yesterday, but it was a big one. If he is truly back to form, the Cubs should be in good shape.
Alfonso Soriano - Don't look now, but Sori's average is above .250 for the first time since May 29th. He gets "crazy hot" sometimes, so lets ride it as long as it lasts. He's raised his average 28 points since July 4th, when he ended the day hitting .223.
Koyie Hill - Another 0-for-3 day dips Koyie below .200. You would think that Lou has to give Jake Fox one chance right?
The Cubs stumbled all year, but now is the time to strike. If Jim Hendry has anything up his sleeve, now is the time to pull it out. At worst, the Cubs need one more lefy in the pen to go along with Sean Marshall. It would be a great day to see the Cubs move into first place, and add something for the stretch run.
Johnny Cueto (8-6, 3.67 ERA) vs. Kevin Hart (1-1, 2.30 ERA)
There is a lot of going on in the world of baseball that deals with the Cubs. First off, yesterday's win saw the offense break out a little bit, which is good news. They were able to score some insurance runs, but Lou still brought out Kevin Gregg, who does not do well in non-save situations.
In the bad news department, Ted Lilly will likely hit the DL today. We should know more later on, but hopefully it's just one or two starts. You have to wonder if Jim Hendry will go out and get somebody with all the injuries. There is no word on who might be called up at this point.
In other news, the new Cardinal Matt Holliday had four hits last night. I hate when stuff works out for the Cards, but I feel Jim will do something. This means the Cubs stay 1.5 games back of first. The Cubs did move closer to the Wild Card last night after the Giants beat the Rockies.
Aramis Ramirez - I didn't get to see any of the game yesterday, but it all sounded nice. Ramirez had four hits, three RBI, and one HR. This was Rameriz's first big came since coming off the DL, and we can only hope it continues.
Derrek Lee - I called out Lee yesterday, and he responded with a couple hits and his 19th HR.
Kosuke Fukudome - Two more hits for Fukudome and more importantly, two more runs for our new leadoff hitter.
There isn't much I can say here, because each of the Cub regulars had a hit. Plus, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker each reached base.
The Cubs have battled through a lot this season, but are still in the thick of the race. Now, they just have to find a way to keep winning. Today's matchup is probably the worst of the weekend, but hopefully Cueto pitches like he did against the Phillies a few weeks back.
The story line of the day does not deal with the Cubs, but with the Cardinals. It looks like the Red Birds have dealt for Matt Holliday. At least it wasn't for Roy Halladay, because that could have actually really hurt. The Cards are better with with Matt in the outfield, but their pitching staff is still craptastically the same.
The question remains, will Jim Hendry respond to this move by our rivals? Last year, he went out and got Rich Harden after the Brewers dealt for C.C. Sabathia. I'm not sure if the Cubs can do anything, but Jim has surprised us in the past.
As for the Cubs, they find themselves 1.5 games out of first coming into the weekend. The best part is that the Cubs are back at Wrigley, where they've played pretty well this season.
Randy Wells, who has been much more human of late, takes the hill for the Cubs. Last week, Randy was knocked around a little bit by the Nats, before the offense bailed him out. We all knew that Randy wouldn't be perfect all season, but he was good enough to get the win.
The Cubs are in an interesting spot in the standing. Even with how bad they have played at times, they are in the Wild Card and NL Central races. At the start of a series, I like to look at the last seven days, so time for our hot and not lists.
Alfonso Soriano - Finally he is showing a little life. He's 9-for-21 in his last five games played with a 1.216 OPS.
Kosuke Fukudome - He likes the top of the order, and I'm fine with him there. He's 9-for-22 with three walks. Four of those hits went for extra bases.
Derrek Lee - He's finally cooled off a little. In his last six, he's hit .208, but he does have 7 RBI.
Koyie Hill - He's been pretty rough since taking over the starting duties. He's 3-for-25 in the last six games. We knew what we were getting, but we need Geo back soon.
The Cubs need to take Game 1 to start the home stand off right. It also wouldn't hurt if Jim Hendry was working some phones.
Ok, Game 1 didn't quite work out how the Cubs wanted. Ted Lilly looked like he was throwing batting practice, and the Cubs offense went back into hibernation.
None the less, the Cubs did not lose any ground last night on their main rivals. The Cardinals, Brewers, and Giants all found ways to lose. The Brewers even got into a little spat with the Pirates over beaning players.
The Cubs did not do much of anything right last night, so lets not harp on the negative all over again. The key to the next two games is starting pitching. Rich Harden, who is now pitching in mostly night games, will take the mound after another strong start against Washington.
Harden's problems come when he gets his ball up in the zone. On the other side, Joe Blanton will toe the rubber for the Phillies. On paper the match up looks great, but the Cubs only look good on paper lately.
Alfonso Soriano - The move down the order has done something, who cares why. He picked up three hits last night, even if they were all singles. Now, if people could get on base in front of him.
Ryan Theriot - The Riot picked up the lone RBI last night, and walked twice. He might not be flashy, but he gets the job down.
Aramis Ramirez - I sure dislocating a shoulder hurts a lot, and playing baseball doesn't help. Even so, he went 0-for-3 last night. I'm sure he will bounce back, but he's going to have to prove he can hit to help Derrek Lee in the lineup.
Koyie Hill - Our backup catcher went 0-for-4 to drop his average to .204. I wonder if Lou will gamble and play Fox behind the plate at least once? Or will the Cubs pick up someone else to get some starts? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Cubs need a win. The fans need something to feel good about, because I'm sick of all the "sky is falling" attitudes many fans have taken to this season. It is clear to see this season isn't as picture perfect as last season. So, lets go ahead and deal with it and give our support to our team.
Ted Lilly (9-6, 3.18 ERA) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (1-0, 3.18 ERA)
I picked a great time to see the Cubs play this year. After a so-so first half, the Cubs did what they had to do by sweeping away the lowly Washington Nationals. Trust me, the Cubs were not perfect, but they did enough to win each night. The only night were there really was any doubt was Saturday night, but the Cubs were able to wait out Jordan Zimmermann and pick up the victory.
I saw a few things over the weekend that interested me. First off, Alfonso Soriano actually looked pretty good at times at the plate. We all know that he hit two big home runs, but he had a few other at bats that he really worked some counts. I'm not saying he's back, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
I'm pretty sure that Jake Fox shouldn't be a full-time 3B. I love his bat, but he still needs serious work with the glove after Sunday's showing.
On the flip side, many of the Cub regulars started to show signs of hitting. (Except Milton Bradley). Also, for the first time, I felt pretty good about the bullpen all season. Kevin Gregg is not flashy, but all of the sudden his ERA is respectable and he's getting people out.
The biggest question make is how will the Cubs fair against a better foe? The Phillies are red hot right now, and they have quality hitting and pitching. The Cardinals are facing the Astros, who are right at .500 as well. This series is a chance for the Cubs to prove they are heading in the right direction by winning 2 of 3. Tonight would be a great chance to take a game with Rodrigo Lopez on the mound. No wonder they want make deals for starters.
Mike Fontenot - Mike went 6-for-12 with two doubles and a HR in the Nationals series. He may not hit .300, but if he can hit .275 it would help out.
Kosuke Fukudome - This is one player I can't figure out, but he did have six hits and three walks in his last four games. Maybe his teacher can help him keep it up.
Aramis Ramirez - He did hit his first home run since coming off the DL, but he was 2-for-11 in the series.
Koyie Hill - He's not going to do much at the plate, and we should be ok with that. He was 3-for-15 over the weekend.
The Cubs are within striking distance, but we've been saying that all season. It would be nice to see them take 2-of-3, but to do they they really need to win game one. My buddy told me to stay on the road with the team until they lost, but I had to come back to grad school. Hopefully, they will continue on the hot streak without me.
I think the series coming up in Philly will be a good barometer of what the second half will be for the Cubs.
It's hard to disagree with that. As fun as it's been to see the Cubs trounce the lowly Nationals, a truer test of their talent will be the first place Phillies.
Still, I don't think there's a true Cub fan out there who's actually complaining about the team winning their first series after the break. The Cubs are -- as they have been in the past -- one good weekend away from seizing the division lead, something that many people have doubted possible. And it's even possible -- albeit unlikely -- that the Cubs will be in a position to tie for the lead tomorrow.
Perhaps at last the slumbering bear is coming out of hibernation.
Derrek Lee, Three Finger Hill, Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Fontenot, Reed Johnson - Since the All Star Break, this group of players have combined to bat .385, feasting on the poor pitching of the Nationals. Considering that Fukudome, Soriano, Fontenot, and Bradley are the current incanation of the Questionable Quartet, we'll take that as a good sign.
Kevin Gregg - In the month of July, 1-0, 0.90 ERA, 5 saves. But he's pitched in the last 3 games, so don't expect to see him today.
Carlos Marmol - Also in July, 0-0, 1.13 ERA, 9 SO in 8 IP. Then again, he's also walked 5.
Milton Bradley, Ryan Theriot, Aramis Ramirez - Ignoring their few-and-far-between big hits, these three hitters are batting .171 since the break. At this point I'm pretty much over Bradley -- wait 'til next year, kid -- but Ramirez is troublesome as he may or may not be of help to the offense with his damaged shoulder.
Hart is an enigma who will give me cold-sweats whenever he faces Dunn. Mock is a first-time starter with a terrible record so far this year. I like the Cubs' chances.
Randy Wells (4-4, 2.72 ERA) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (3-4, 4.50 ERA)
The Chicago Cubs continue their charge toward second-half glory tonight in a match-up against the Nationals that could result in a series victory. But that's not really the story.
For Cub fans everywhere -- many of whom have already raised the white flag -- it's more a story of continuing on the excruciating torture of a failed season for a team that's just too close to first place to give up. Maybe it's like owning a really unreliable car. After a while you probably just want to wail on it with a crowbar, and there's nothing that some people want to see more than the destruction and dismantling of the 2009 Cubs.
Sorry kids, it's not going to happen. For good or for bad this team is too good to give up on and too bad to actually accomplish anything. Go figure.
Ryan Theriot - In his last 18 at bats he's hitting .333 with 3 doubles and 2 walks. I'm still not sold on him reliably batting leadoff, but I think we'll all agree that he's been one of the few Cub hitters to actually exceed expectations this year.
Derrek Lee - And speaking of the other. D.Lee is 6 for his last 14 with a two-run homer.
Jeff "I still don't know who this guy is!" Baker - He's batting .333 in his last 12 at bats with a double and 2 walks. We'll take it!
Fukudome - Despite his 2 hits yesterday, Kosuke is only batting .154 in his last 4 games. (That would be because his only hits in his last 4 games were yesterday)
Randy Wells suffered his first loss in a month the last time he pitched. The point being that he's been one of the best pitchers on the team this year, and while the Nationals have some scary hitters I would expect a win tonight.
Then again, the Cubs are down 1-0 in the first inning ... that's probably not a good sign.