Apologies for the lateness.
Carlos Zambrano (5-4, 3.53) vs. John Lannan (6-6, 3.70)
Yesterday was probably "the hard one," as Rich Harden hasn't exactly been a ball of reliability these last few months.
Probably the most interesting aspect of yesterday's game -- at least for me -- was that some idiots actually expressed disappointment that the Cubs won. It is apparently a bad thing, in their opinion, if the Cubs are able to actually hold on and stay competitive for a while.
Clearly, these people are not Cub fans.
I don't think any of us here are so blind as to think that the Cubs will just saunter into the playoffs, but -- sorry, Cubbie downers -- at 3 games out of 1st place, anything is possible.
Derrek Lee -- After having hit his 18th homerun last night, I'm pretty sure everybody will agree that Lee is in top form right now.
Bradley, Soriano, etc. -- Milton went 0 for 5 yesterday, and while the Fonz went 1 for 3 he will need to do a little more than that to convince me.
A Cubs win tonight means momentum. A Cubs loss means, hopefully, that the biggest doubters will do us all a favor and finally end their miserable existence ... or become Cardinals fans, whichever they deem worse.
Rich Harden (5-6, 5.47 ERA) vs. John Lannan (6-6, 3.70)
The Cubs kick off the second half in grand style against the worst team in baseball. So far this month the Cubs are 7-5 and they remain floating at .500 on the season. This comes after they squandered a chance to surge past the Cardinals right before the break, splitting a four-game set.
I have a feeling that the next two weeks will be very telling for the Cubs. If they lose ground, Hendry may need to bite the bullet and start dumping salary -- even though it would be a tremendous struggle for him to do so. It's not that there won't be buyers, but few teams carry around the pocket change necessary to afford the most expensive and disposable Cubs.
What's more likely to happen is continuing, meandering play of the team. Maybe they'll gain a game, maybe they'll continue to float, but they are unlikely to surge or acquire. It's most likely that the lost season we were afraid of back when the sale was announced before 2007 is finally upon us, with the Cubs unable to cut through the ties that bind them.
Still, the talent is there, the players who have basically tanked this year are not necessarily done producing, and stranger things have happened.
Rich Harden - Well, not as a pitcher, but he's been hitting the ball surprisingly well this year. He's 3 for his lat 3 and is batting well over .300 on the season.
Ryan Theriot - He's not drawing enough walks to warrant batting leadoff, but before the break Theriot was hitting the ball like it was Tina and he was Ike. For July, Theriot is 19 for 48 -- a .396 AVG.
Derrek Lee - He's been a little hit and miss but so far this month Lee has 6 homeruns, 18 RBI, and an OPS of 1.034. He's also only batting .262 with an OBP below .300.
Milton Bradley - It's sad that a .250 AVG constitutes as "hot," but we'll take it! More impressive than his 7 hits in 28 at bats is his 13 walks. I don't think Bradley should bat leadoff, but I'd try him in the #2 spot for a while.
Mike Fontenot - So long as he doesn't face lefties (in other words, he should sit the first two games of this series), Fontenot is a half-decent second baseman. And in July he's 9 for 29, although it's mostly singles, which I'm hoping will bode well for the rest of the month.
Fukudome - 9 for his last 40, Kosuke has proven Rob right ... apparently.
Micah Hoffpauir - Hey kids! This guy should be starting over Derrek Lee, who will lead the league in double plays this year! Actually, no, that's wrong. But while Hoffpauir has been a trustworthy bench guy/pinch hitter, he's 3 for his last 16 (.188 AVG).
The Nationals are really, really bad. Seriously bad. Painfully bad. It would be hard to feel disappointment with the Cubs if they win the series, but they really should sweep. And even though Harden has been shaky-at-best, I have to believe he puts the Cubs in position to win.
Which doesn't mean I'm expecting victory.
Game 1: Kyle Loshe (4-4, 3.99) vs. Carlos Zambrano (4-4, 3.47 ERA)
First off, who thinks that Ted Lilly signing was bad now? The more and more I see him pitch, the better I feel. Lilly's effort yesterday, plus a little hitting, gives the Cubs a chance to end the first half on a good note.
The Cubs and Cards will battle twice today for a chance to gain some momentum heading into the All-Star Break. I'll focus more on Game 1 today, with Kurt coming in to focus on Game 2.
In Game 1, Carlos Zambrano tries to follow up his solid outing on Monday. Big Z is the perfect guy to go in first game. Kurt made a point in his recap that "Mastermind" Tony LaRussa is throwing Lohse in Game 1, which I don't understand either. Lohse hasn't made a start since June 3rd, and I feel an Aramis Ramirez big day coming.
With Geovany Soto out for the time being, it looks like Jake Fox might see some time behind the dish. It makes sense, but I have a feeling the Cards might run all day long. Of course Fox could just smash a 3-run home run to shut up everyone.
Carlos Zambrano - In his last two starts, Z has given up 3 runs in 13 innings of work. Too bad he's 1-1 in those starts. He pitched on 3-days rest last time out and was very sharp, except against Brian McCann.
Ryan Theriot - He had two hits, and two runs score yesterday to push his average up to .297. He also drew a walk in the process. As long as he keeps getting on base, Derrek Lee's home runs won't be solo shots.
Kosuke Fukudome - I can't figure Kosuke out. One day he looks great, then the next two he's a combined 0-for-9. He's still got a .370 OBP, so that's something.
The Cubs really need a sweep today to make all of use feel better. A sweep and the Cubs are 1.5 games out with five more games to play than the Cardinals.
Game 2, by Kurt: Adam Wainright (9-5, 3.09 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (4-3, 2.48 ERA)
And here's where things will get interesting.
If the Cubs can manage to take advantage of the long break between outings for Lohse, then they have a fairly good shot of sweeping the day for one reason: the Cardinals bullpen will be depleted and LaRussa will be inclined to use Wainwright for too long.
On the other hand, it might not go so splendidly -- and with the Cubs, we've known that to often be the case in this, our season of woe.
Yesterday in the Game Recap I wrote something about how the Cubs would be playing for the season today. Probably that was a bit dramatic. Still, if the Cubs win today they will enter the All Star Break with the fewest losses in the Central and within 1.5 games of the division lead. And if they lose both games, then they will have been dealt a crushing, demoralizing blow that might just be the dot at the end of the exclamation point on how crappy this season has been.
What would perhaps be the most Cub to do would be to split -- they'd still be 3.5 games out, nothing lost nothing gained. Our hopes wouldn't be quite dashed nor would they be confirmed ... it'd be treading water as usual.
So c'mon, Cubs, do something unusual today. Win!
Derrek Lee hits a HR yesterday and we're all feeling good, until "he whom shall not be named" goes yard for the Cards and everything goes to hell.
The Cubs find themselves in a tough situation now after losing game one. They are 4.5 games back and in danger of getting run out of the NL Central Race. But Cub fans don't fear, because Ted Lilly is here!
If there is one man who can lead us through these dark times, it is our man Ted. Lilly's been the Cubs best pitcher and they are in need of a great performance.
In other news, Sam Fuld will join the Cubs in Soto's spot. That means Jake Fox is the backup behind the dish, and it means we probably won't see him in a game the the rest of the weekend.
Ryan Theriot - The Riot had two hits yesterday, so I guess that is something.
Derrek Lee - Lee did his job by hitting the 3-run bomb. Too bad Rich couldn't get keep the Cards scoreless.
Reed Johnson, Kosuke Fukudome - They combined for an 0-for-10 yesterday. OUCH! Maybe they can do something today.
Aaron Heilman - The game was still close until Aaron walked to the mound. He two hits, two walks and four runs in an inning of work.
The Cubs need a win, but I have no clue what is going to happen. Which team shows up? Your guess is as good as mine. Today's game is on Fox, so pray they are giving you the game in your area.
The Cubs come into the series against the Red Birds just 3.5 games back even after losing 2 of 3 against the Braves. That makes this weekend 4-game series this weekend pretty big. A split and the Cubs start the second 3.5 games back, but winning 3 of 4 and all of the sudden the gap is 1.5 games.
This series won't be easy, and today's match up might be the toughest. The Cards will toss Chris Carpenter against Rich "Wild Thing" Harden. Carpenter has thrown extremely well this season, with the exception of one start against San Francisco.
We all know that the Cubs have struggled to score runs. There isn't much to say at this point. It looks like Jim Hendry is not able to make a big move. We can only hope that this group of players gets hot at the same time.
With Geovany Soto out with an injury, the Cubs will relay on Koyie Hill for a few days. Hill's actually been pretty good the last seven days. He's 4-for-9 with a walk this week.
Mike Fontenot - The 2B has seven hits in his last 20 AB's, but he's only got one walk. Hopefully he can keep getting on base.
Kosuke Fukudome - It doesn't look like Fukudome is leaving the leadoff spot anytime soon, even with Alfonso Soriano's cries about being benched. Fukudome has six hits and four walks this week for a 1.101 OPS.
Derrek Lee - It seems odd to put Lee on this list, but he's slowed down a little again. He has hit .217 in his last six games, of course he did hit two HR's.
Milton Bradley - What can we say? Is he the worst FA signging since Todd Hundley? I'm not sure, but it sure is heading that way. "Don't wake Daddy" only has 3 hits in his last 15 AB's. Also, he's struck out seven times during that time.
Things were supposed to get better with Aramis Ramirez getting back to the team. The jury is still out on Ramirez, who has three hits so far. A lot of wrongs would be righted this weekend, or their hopes could be dashed. Needless to say, this weekend is big. Today's match up doesn't seem good, but maybe Harden can bring his "A" game to Wrigley.
The Cubs, still struggling to stay over .500, battle the Braves, who have pretty much shut them down since the 3rd inning of the first game of the series.
Taking the mound for the Cubs is Kevin Hart -- a pitcher who's been pretty damn good in Iowa, although he's got a spotty track record in the bigs.
Throwing for the Braves is a guy who evokes a "no, really?" response any time he tells somebody his name. Every time I try to type it I stutter, which is strange since I'm not even speaking right now. (I just blew your mind!)
Megan Fox -- Maybe she can't act, but man she's got pretty eyes!
Derrek Lee -- He's actually been very hit and miss as of late, but his hits have been big ones which have yet to stay contained by the ballpark.
The Cubs offense has scored 1 run in the last 16 innings of play. Not exaclty something to compose ballads about, unless they include the lyric "the doormats of the National League."
I think the Cubs should hire Megan Fox to be the new ball girl. She will flabergast the opposing team with her good looks, only to startle them into a stupor once they get a look at her dwarf thumbs.
Tonight we were supposed to have a rematch of June 22nd, a night that the Cubs would like to forget. Vasquez blanked the Cubs for 6 2/3 innings, despite giving up nine hits and two walks. That was until Ryan Dempster went and broke his toe. Those were there old Cubs. The new Cubs are much more dangerous (Ok, I know this is a reach, but they have won 6 of 8 ).
The Cubs pulled within two games of the Cardinals last night, and have a chance to gain ground or at least catch the Brewers with a victory over the Braves. The Cubs did not have a lot of scoring chances late last night, so it would be nice to see the offense pick up a little more tonight and put the game away early. The Cubs have played four less games than the Cardinals, which makes up for the 2 games in the standings.
Big Z will go on short rest now that Dempster was moved to the DL. It looks like Kevin Hart will start the series final tomorrow afternoon now. Now sure how long Dempster will be out, but hopefully he will only miss the one start and the Cubs can reshuffle the rotation after the All-Star Break.
Derrek Lee - Lee isn't quite the 2005 version, but he has been better than everybody else. He cranked his 16th HR last night in the first inning. Hopefully, Lee can keep it with Aramis Ramirez coming back.
Kosuke Fukudome - It sure looks like the move to the top of the lineup has helped Kosuke for the time being. He picked up two more hits last night, 1 run and 1 RBI.
Aramis Ramirez - What have you done for me lately? He misses two months and goes 0-for-4. Can we please trade him right now? Seriously, he's washed up. It would've been great to see him get a hit, but I'm sure he will be back hitting soon.
Watching the Cubs this season hasn't been easy, but they have been able to hang around. Now is the time for the Cubs to make a move to the top of the division.
While the Cubs battle it out against Atlanta, the Brewers and Cardinals will be taking chunks out of each other. Odds are good that a series win puts the Cubs either decisively in second place or, if the Brewers play well against St. Louis, in a three-way tie for the division lead.
Pitching for Chicago is - dare we say it? - phenom Randy Wells, who is having a rookie season to remember despite nobody seemingly paying too much attention. Remember how quickly Kerry Wood captured our attention in '98? We were following his every pitch weeks before his 20 strikeout game. All Wells has done is pitch well in nearly every start and still he's lacking much of a buzz.
Anyway, as I write this the Cubs are winning 4 to 0 thanks to the early success of the top of the lineup. Odds are good that he's going to collect another win tonight.
Derrek Lee -- Last year Lee only hit 20 homeruns. So far this year he's blasted 16. So much for the mysterious Lee power drain that people were speculating about last season.
Kosuke Fukudome -- He's actually apparently paying off in the leadoff spot. Rob talks a lot about how important it is for a player to "know his role." I'm not sure how much I subscribe to that, although certainly a comfort zone plays a pretty big factor in my working life. Perhaps Fukudome is simply more comfortable leading off.
The bottom half of the Cubs lineup. Wait, what? Lou actually put his worst hitters at the bottom of the lineup? That's crazy talk!
As I write this, the Cubs lead 4 to 0 in the top of the 4th. I suppose we can call that a good start. No matter what, a win gains ground today as both the Brewers and Cardinals are off.
Mike Burns (1-1, 3.31 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (7-6, 3.35 ERA)
After yesterday's drubbing, it sure doesn't feel as if the Cubs are poised to take 3 of 4 from their divisional rivals. And yet, with Ted Lilly taking the mound that is exactly the position the Cubs are in. Then again, as Lou continues to tinker with the team, the Cubs remain in their offensive druthers - having only scored 2 runs in each of their last 2 games.
I realize I'm probably crazy, but it shouldn't be so hard for Lou to figure out his team and put forth a plan of action. He has players who can lead off, he has guys who have been swinging a hot bat, and he even has the ability to take his three-or-so regulars who are tanking right now and place them in the bottom of the batting order until they heat up.
But what do I know -- I am a simple blogger.
Theriot, Bradley, Fontenot, Soto, and Fuld -- hmm. Odd. None of these players conflict in the positions they field. There are five of them in total, too. Maybe Lou can work them into the 1-5 slots of the top of the lineup? Derrek Lee would make for a sixth.
Fox, Fukudome, Soriano -- Jake Fox was bound to hit a dry spell. Fukky and Sori, on the other hand, are out of excuses.
Here's today's should-be-lineup based on the past week-or-so of play. Ready?
1. Sam Fuld, LF -- bats left, swings a hot bat, etc.
2. Milton Bradley, RF -- switch hitter, been hitting well as of late.
3. Derrek Lee, 1B -- Low AVG, high OPS
4. Geo Soto, C -- been hitting -- and especially driving -- the ball well as of late.
5. Mike Fontenot, 2B -- bats left, .904 OPS in the past week
6. Ryan Theriot, SS -- Batting .286, but not taking many walks right now
7. Kosuke Fukudome, CF -- bats left, .723 OPS
8. Jake Fox, 3B -- Sluggish rather than slugging, still the best option until Ramirez returns
All I'm saying is that they couldn't possibly do worse than the real lineup Lou's trotting out there today. For the record, that lineup is as follows:
Fukudome, Theriot, Lee, Bradley, Fox, Soriano, Soto, Fontenot, Lilly
But I'm crazy for thinking Lou's lost it?
Just when it looked like the Cubs might be in a good position to get a step ahead, the offense comes crashing down, the pitching falters and fails, and my apocalyptic worst-case scenario (a 4th place again Cubs) comes true.
Meh. They're still playing for a series win today.
Rich Harden, it would seem, does not have the testicle fortitude to pitch when his best stuff is not there. Smarter pitchers find something that works even when their pitches aren't. But not Harden -- he got lit up like a firecracker.
Then again, so did Patton and Samardzija, both of whom gave up extra -- but meaningless -- runs to the offensively angry Brewers.
On the offensive end, nobody had a particularly good game (as evidenced by the meager 2 runs the team scored). Milton Bradley hit a 2-run homerun on the day Yahoo sports posted an article questioning whether or not the Cubs were already tired of him and his antics.
Maybe they are, and maybe it's a relationship doomed to eventually fall apart, but I will repeat again the message of this month: Talent Wins Out. Bradley's not done as a hitter yet -- even if 2009 is a lost season for him.