Braden Looper (6-4, 4.90 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (5-4, 4.57 ERA)
On the day we celebrate our freedom -- and our right to accuse the other political party of doing anything within their power to stifle it -- the Cubs play a game with immense implications*. If they win, then they come within mere percentage points of surpassing the Brewers for second place in the division. If they lose, then they very well may find themselves behind the Reds and back in fourth place by the end of the day. For Saturday baseball, it doesn't get much better.
(*which, admittedly, require the use of a calculator to fully understand)
Pitching for the Cubs today is Rich Harden, also known as Last Year's Rick Sutcliffe. But like Sutcliffe in '84, Harden's '85 season hasn't panned out as well as we'd hope it would've. Still, like Sutcliffe before him Harden is a ginger** with arm problems who can pitch like Cy Young when he's not feeling like Mark Prior.
(**may not be true)
The Cubs, meanwhile, are trying this revolutionary new strategy of NOT BATTING THE WORST HITTER LEADOFF. I'm sorry, Cub fans, but in the past month I've heard the following reasons for keeping Alfonso Soriano in the #1 position:
- Because wouldn't it be worse for him to get his outs with runners on base?
- Because who else would the Cubs bat leadoff if not Soriano?
- But he's a headcase! How's he going to improve if he's not comfortable!
I mean, really? We're justifying batting a guy who is now hitting .226 leadoff -- in other words, giving him the most at bats of any Cub in any given game -- because the team has nobody better who can hit leadoff and besides, Sori will just make outs with runners on if he's dropped in the order?
Not that today's lineup looks spectacular by any means. Fukudome is batting leadoff, and he's 8 for his last 32 - a .250 AVG - with a .314 OBP in that time frame. Maybe Lou is setting Fukudome up to fail so he can say "well, I tried, but I gotta put Sori back in the leadoff spot."
On the bright side, unlike past lineups, Lou is not sticking two-or-more hitters back-to-back in the middle of the lineup. Instead he's leaving them in the middle but with padding in between. I mean, I have to ask, which lineup would YOU rather see?
SS Theriot (.400 OBP in the past week)
RF Bradley (.407 OBP in the past week)
C Soto (.936 OPS, .545 slugging in the past week)
CF Fukudome (.222 in the past week, but .833 OPS)
2B Fontenot (.750 OPS in the past week)
I could be wrong, but the second lineup appears stronger.
Well, I sorta outlined that in the lineup formation. Ryan Theriot -- on fire. Geovany Soto -- not bad. Even Milton's been playing too well to justify a benching.
The Fonz. This season has been a total bust for him.
If the Cubs win this one, then they will have started to assume control of their own destiny. But if they fail to do that, then at least we wouldn't be surprised. (We're a fickle, cynical bunch)
Jeff Suppan (5-6, 4.86 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (4-3, 3.69 ERA)
Yesterday's game was pretty effin' cool. In a game of offensive bounty (a particularly rare occurrence with the Cubs this year) Derrek Lee reminded us of why we once loved him, back before he got his wrist broken by a guy who might weigh 140 pounds soaking wet and before Lee had the bad luck of grounding into a ton of double plays*. The decisive victory was nice. But today's story, at least in my opinion, is Carlos Zambrano.
(*Now, if Rob had made either claim, we'd have people commenting about how Raffy Furcal actually weighs 187 pounds, and how 27 double plays is surely a lot but it would be difficult to assign a physical weight to a statistic. Then again, in case you hadn't noticed, people are douchebags)
In the past week-or-so, we've had articles written by other douchebags about how Carlos should be waived, or released, or traded. Why? Because he's apparently to blame for his meager 4 wins in 13 starts or something, I'm not really sure.
Looking a little closer, we see that Carlos presently has a 3.69 ERA - his best since 2006. He's striking out 7.16 batters per 9 innings - his best since '07 and damn near a full strikeout better than last year's. His K/BB is the best it's been since 2005. None of which is to say that he's pitching like an "ace."
Maybe it's because of his attitude. Carlos, as you may know, is batshit insane. When he's not pitching well, he curses loudly at the ball in Spanish. When he's tossing a no-hitter, he curses loudly at the ball in Spanish. When he hits homeruns, he curses loudly in Spanish as he rounds the bases. When he strikes out... well, you get it. The point is, he's immature. He doesn't have the Maddux-like poise that we are seeking (ignoring the Maddux rampage in the dugout when he was in his second tenure with the Cubs, anyway). He throws things. He ejects umpires. In the words of some douchebag Cub bloggers, he's a punk.
I submit that he is none of those things. Is he immature? By what standards would we assess that? Think about yourself and the most frustrating moment you experienced in, say, the past two years. Did you throw things? Did you curse loudly at yourself or at others? Did you pull a Wayne Brady and have to choke a bitch? Are you immature? The difference is that you didn't have your meltdown on a national stage, but whether you are 20, or 40, or 80, chances are you've had at least one freak out in the past year that you're ashamed of. It's called being human and caring about whatever situation you find yourself in -- even if you're wrong for the tantrum you've tempered.
Anyway, let's agree that Carlos will not win 20. Not this year, probably never, but so long as he remains capable -- if not likely -- of holding opponents to 3 runs or less in a playoff start, then he's my favorite Game One starter. Of all the other pitchers on the Cubs roster, I trust none more than him. So, yeah, maybe releasing Zambrano, or trading him, or waiving him... maybe those are all really, really stupid ideas.
Derrek Lee -- As somebody said in the ShoutBox, Lee had a good week last night. He smacked 2 homers, drove in 7 RBI, and is probably the most legitimate All Star caliber player the Cubs have this year.
Geovany Soto -- Admit it. When I speculated about a month ago that Soto was on the cusp of having a decent season, you were doubtful. When I suggested that he could finish the year with a .260+ batting average and 15 or more homeruns, you wanted to challenge me to a fistfight due to my blatant, reality-disregarding optimism.
Well, based on his recent performance, Geovany is now on pace to hit 19 homeruns. He batted .278 in May, but with only 1 homer, 10 RBI, and a .731 OPS. In June he batted .257 but with 6 homeruns, 12 RBI, and a .916 OPS. There's no doubt that he won't finish the season as impressively as he did in 2008, but at this point he appears likely to not be a sophomore bust. And if he can keep hitting like he did in June but with perhaps a bit of a better AVG, then the Cubs offense just might be good to go in July and beyond.
Jake Fox -- Between him and Randy Wells, Jake Fox has been one reason Cub fans can look forward to not just how 2009 might turn out, but toward 2010 and beyond. Probably Fox is not as good as he's looked in Iowa and Chicago, but ever since Lou started playing him he has responded with hitting the ball. For the moment, Fox is on pace to have 284 at bats, 24 doubles, 14 homers, and 57 RBI while batting .317. Sooner or later he will probably return to earth, or he'll lose opportunities to play -- unless the Cubs can figure out a way to wedge him in there.
Ryan Theriot -- Theriot is batting .348 in the past week with 7 singles and 1 homerun accounting for all his hits.
Bradley, Fukudome, Soriano -- Combined, they've spent the past week going 14 for 63, a .222 AVG, with 1 homer and 4 RBI between them. The only way these players should be batting consecutively in the lineup is if they're 6 through 8th. Just saying.
With Jeff Suppan taking the ball for the Brewers and Carlos Zambrano on the mound for the Cubs, in a home game with a handful of hot hitters, the Cubs should absolutely flat-out dominate this game. Of course, by now we know that "should" rarely translates into "did." Still, I have to like the Cubs chances. They've already beaten the best pitcher the Brewers were throwing at them this series while their own rotation should get stronger throughout the weekend.
So I'll just put it like this, then...
Is anybody besides me excited for this afternoon's game?
The Cubs are a team who have been under-performing so often this year that it's hard to justify the inclusion of "under" in that description nowadays. They have ungodly talented hitters who just aren't hitting. They've got relief pitchers with ice water in their veins who are about as reliable as a tool bought at a Dollar Store. They've got a manager with winning in his blood who can't seem to do anything right.
And now they've got a chance to hurdle their way above the first place Brewers in one fell swoop.
Well, sadly my friends this is not the movies. Willie Mays Hays isn't here to make some kind of impressive (and entirely unrealistic) base-stealing play. Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn is neither here to notch an impressive victory nor to sleep with all the hookers of Division Street. The Cubs could leapfrog the Brewers but it would take some kind of minor -- nay, major -- miracle for it to actually happen.
Still, let's just think about it for a second. The Cubs, sweeping the Brewers, smacking around the Braves, and then demolishing the Cardinals. That feeling in your gut that you had just now? That's optimism, my friends. Cherish it while you can.
Jake Fox - 9 for his last 27, batting .333 with 2 homeruns
Geovany Soto - 7 for his last 23, batting .304 with a double, triple, and homer
Sam Fuld - 2 for 4 this season. Actually I just wanted to mention him as a way to congratulate him on getting his first-ever major league hits, and for making another outstanding defensive play recently. Fuld may come from the Doug Dascenzo School of Athleticism, but I'd say he's earned a stay in the Majors based on his head-breaking hard play.
Dave Patton - As mentioned perhaps by Nick V (sorry I can't remember for sure, it may also have been AJ) since April 29th, Patton's line is as follows: 13.2 IP, 13 hits, 7 BB, 4 ER, 2.63 ERA. I'm not sold on Patton, but used sparingly and if he can pitch this effectively then I'll take back most of the mean things I've said about his mother. (But she's still a hater of cheese)
Kevin Gregg - His May line: 11.2 IP, 7 saves, 3.86 ERA. His June line: 13 IP, 5 saves (2 blown), 2.77 ERA.
In the name of optimism, we'll skip this one.
I made this point earlier in the day and I will make it again now.
Stop being a Cubs fan for a second. Pretend you support the Brewers or Cardinals, and you always have.
It's July 2nd. The team favored to win your division has been struggling along all season long. And here's your team, a mere 4 -- or 8 -- games over .500, only 3.5 -- or 2.5 -- games ahead of the dangerous, sluggish Cubs.
Tell me you're not worried. Tell me that you have written the Cubs off. Tell me either of those things and I will call you a liar and an idiot.
We are so caught up in our Cubbie Mentality that we've forgotten a few things ... all the crap that's ever happened means nothing this year. If the Cubs and Brewers were in opposite places in the standings, we'd be crapping our collective drawers right now. So rather than taking this pervasive, unending perspective that these are the Cubs -- so of course they'll falter and eventually fade -- maybe we should consider that maybe, just maybe, talent will win out.
That's not being an optimist, or a Pollyellon, by any means. It is simply recognizing that -- say it with me now -- the Cubs are not cursed. Get over this ridiculous sense of hopelessness and have some frickin' balls for once, Cub fans!
This one is coming up early because I won't be around to publish it tonight.
Randy Wells (2-3, 2.57 ERA) vs. Virgil Vasquez (1-0, 3.00 ERA)
The Cubs, a team of destiny. The Pirates of mediocrity. The pitchers, Ross Olendorf, a mediocre-at-best 5th starter with a near-5 ERA. The hitters, a Cubs lineup loaded with super expensive superstars. The results? A shut-out with the Cubs being the sad participants.
The other day Rob criticized the team for having three incredibly expensive corner outfielders who aren't producing. Except he exaggerated, which is apparently against the rules of the internets, which apparently gave readers permission to ignore that the Cubs have three incredibly expensive corner outfielders who aren't producing.
So, sorry, but minus the exaggerations Rob is right.
With all due respect to those who would go as far as to tell Rob he pooped if Rob claimed he'd peed, Jim Hendry's moves have not paid off. Even back when he first signed Soriano, Lilly, and Marquis, we called them reactionary moves made by Jim to save his job. They weren't necessarily smart moves, but they were moves that worked for 2007 and 2008.
Well, 2009 is here. Baseball was, is, and always will be a What Have You Done For Me Lately sport. And what Jim has done for me lately is nothing. He's made trades that didn't work, moves that have absolutely failed, and signings that have absolutely hand-cuffed the team from taking further steps to try to get competitive. Rather than nitpick the exaggerations like an annoying mother, why not step back and acknowledge that the Cubs are in a tough situation right now and, yes Rick Morrissey, Hendry is at least partly to blame?
Anyway, it's a moot point if the under-performing Cub hitters step up, but we aren't wrong for pointing out that they haven't and they may not.
After yesterday's fiasco, we're back on the "nobody at all" kick.
See above. Hey, at least Samardzija pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his return. At this point, after his earlier performance this year, I'm not sold on his big league ability.
Despite the justified worry, I feel confident that any Cubs team from any bad year can take 2 of 3 from this year's Pirates, even when they're playing in Pittsburgh.
Ted Lilly (7-5, 3.41 ERA) vs. Ross Ohlendorf (6-6, 4.75 ERA)
Fresh off a fairly long bout with losing, the Cubs managed to beat the Pirates yesterday 3 to 1. Today the Cubs should have a pretty decent shot of winning as their best pitcher this season squares off against a guy who would hemorrhage runs against a more offensively competent team than the Cubs.
We keep talking about momentum as if it is something that even a team as rocky as the Cubs can grasp. I can only direct you to the Colorado Rockies, who were at their low point 20-32. Since then they've rattled off an 11-game winning streak and are 20-6. Momentum.
Then again, as I write this the Cubs are being 1-hit by Ross Ohlendorf. It's probably not a good thing that he has apparently joined the long line of pitchers who've had their best games of the year against the Cubs. You know why it's happened? Inertia. Like the fat kid trying to peddle his bike from a stand-still up a steep hill, it's reallllly hard to get started sometimes.
Jake "Please Let Me Play" Fox. In the past week the young man is 9 for 23 with 2 doubles, 2 homers, and 6 RBI. Apparently he may actually belong in the major leagues, defensive incompetence be damned.
Alfonso Soriano. Is he finally awaking from hibernation and crawling out of the Slump Cave? In the past week the Fonz is batting .300 with a .344 OBP -- the sort of numbers that are actually passable for a leadoff guy.
Pretty much everybody else. It's the same old story. Team can't hit, blah blah, shaky bullpen, yadda yadda, crazy guy on roster, etc.
Assuming that today's crazy guy is actually Ted Lilly, and he displays his insanity by owning the Pirates from innings 1 through 9, then the Cubs just might sneak off with their second straight win. But it's a big assumption. This team needs an injection, and not of the steroid variety.
What a crazy day it's been. It's probably never a good thing when a sports blog's biggest news is the strife on the blog -- rather than on the team the blog covers -- although I suppose I'd rather there be dissent here than on the Cubs.
Still, we've learned today that we shouldn't care about whether or not rival fans are homophobic -- and the act of caring may make us homophobic to boot -- and that people are incredibly, unbelievably sensitive on both sides when it comes to voicing opinions that aren't necessarily popular (and opinions on either side could fall into that category, so don't assume I'm talking about one or the other).
I have learned, meanwhile, that it is impossible to satisfy everybody -- and to try doing so leaves nobody at all feeling any kind of satisfaction. So, I guess I'm going to go back to only trying to satisfy meself.
Not the Cubs. Sorry, should I sugar-coat it? Should I pretend that before the 2007 season I never wanted Jim Hendry fired for a laundry list of reasons, which he only was able to avoid by finally opening the check book and signing some top tier talent? Should I pretend to have never felt that Hendry was forced to compensate for his complete and undeniable inability to grow talent by throwing oodles of money at players who are now under-performing en masse -- players he now has zero chance of moving even if he sees a way to improve his team? Should I also pretend that I was alone in wanting the Cubs to have a change back before two winning -- but ultimately futile -- seasons were purchased?
That doesn't mean I have given up on the 2009 season, on the contrary I really haven't. But I have given up on having expectations. Maybe the Cubs will pull it together -- they should certainly be capable of doing so, but we all may agree that inertia is a bitch -- or maybe they won't. I don't think this blog is doing a disservice by suggesting that the possibility that they won't is indeed a possibility. And it's a possibility that's growing stronger each and every day.
In the past, this blog -- along with all the other cool blogs -- would have sneered at the Pollyellons of the world, forecasting sunshine on even a cloudy day, but it seems that even some of our own writers get very, very ANGRY when we say things like "this team isn't performing up to expectations" and "maybe somebody should be held accountable, like Lou Piniella or Jim Hendry."
This morning I wrote a big section about who's to blame. Without blaming any one person, I did point out that everybody could be blamed. From Milton Bradley and his fragile ego to Lou Piniella and his questionable management, from any hitter who's underperforming to any pitcher who's failed to get a big out, this mess does not fall on the shoulders of just one person. But why is it too much to ask that maybe somebody man up and take some kind of responsibility for things? Rather than get mad at me for asking that question, answer it instead. I'd appreciate that.
Anyway, I have always -- always* -- said that baseball is very much a What Have You Done For Me Lately sport. The mastermind who built your team's World Championship squad five years ago should not be guaranteed a job for life, especially if said team is lounging about in the basement on mom's computer. I refuse to kiss Lou Piniella's ass from now until the day he gracefully retires because he gave me the first back-to-back division title Cub teams of my lifetime. Getting mad at me for being consistent -- and you can go back and read through everything I have ever written, my philosophy of baseball has not suddenly changed -- is pointless and wrong.
So here's what I'm going to do. I am going to blog about the Cubs. When they lose a tough game, just like Harry Caray in the booth, or like Steve Stone, I am not going to pull my punches about how upset I feel. When they win big -- or even little -- I'm not going to rain on everybody's parade.
I will try like hell to have fun while doing it. If the season progresses and the Cubs continue to tank, you can bet your ass that the fun I have will be directed at them. The balls-busting photoshops are on their way.
But I will not give up on the 2009 season until my two previously-mentioned conditions are met. For those with short memories, they are as follows: 10 games below .500, or 10 games out of a playoff spot.
If you have a problem with me busting balls or being truthful about the frustrating moments then this is the time to voice your displeasure. Otherwise I can only assume that you're in it with us for the long haul. Sound fair?
So, yeah. That's tonight's GameCast. Fun, wowee, I hope you enjoyed it my friends.
Randy Wells (1-3, 2.57 ERA) vs. Jose Contreras (2-6, 5.23 ERA)
Here we go again. The Cubs win four in a row, and follow that up with four straight losses. During that time, the Cubs have only lost 1 game in the standings so how. IF there is any saving grace it is that the entire NL Central is pretty bad right now.
The Cubs travel to "The Cell" this afternoon for a chance at redemption, among other things. I don't have much to say thanks to a paper I have due. I never thought going back to Grad School would take so much time.
Randy Wells picked up a win in his last start, so maybe he can find a way to win two in a row.
Jake Fox - I say Fox stays in the lineup for a few days. Just a hunch, but he can hit.
Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano - Both of the slump guys got two hits yesterday. Maybe they can find two more hits today.
Milton Bradley - Lou's finally had enough and has benched Milton for a few days.
The Cubs are in bad need of winning streak, so why not today?
The Cubs try and avoid a sweep today with staff ace Ted Lilly on the mound. After two pretty heartbreaking losses, the Cubs still find themselves 3.5 games out of first thanks to the Cardinals losing 11-0 to the Mets last night.
Things are not pretty in Chicago, and we all know that. It seems like the good karma we picked up last weekend is now gone after three straight losses. There is no reason to beat a dead horse, so lets go get a win.
Geovany Soto - In this last 7 days, Geo's hitting .316 with a 1.335 OPS. I'm not saying he's out of the slump, but this is a good sign. He hit another home run last night, but I have a feeling he won't play today with the day after the night game.
Derrek Lee - Our 1B is not sporting a .294 average and a 21-game hitting streak. Too bad we can't get any wins for him.
Milton Bradley - He can't even break a bat correctly after striking out in the 9th last night.
Cubs hitting with RISP - They went 1-15 last night in those spots. You are not going to win many games like that.
The Cubs had 11 hits last night, but they were not at key times. At least they are getting some hits, but now they must come at clutch situations. If only we had a clutch player.
Rich Harden (4-3, 5.27 ERA) vs. Rick Porcello (8-4, 3.54 ERA)
Just when you thought they were out of the woods, the Cubs have resumed hibernating. Except they've actually been dealing with another problem the last few days. Where before the team wasn't getting hits, now they're just not getting timely hits. Perhaps it's the result of Von Joshua's hard work?
Anyway, the Cubs continue to pitch well but have been victims of an inordinate amount of really, really bad luck. That includes Rich Harden, who hasn't been quite so invincible this year. I'm sure he'll be looking to make up for his most recent attrocity of a game in some kind of epic manner tonight.
The offense, except when it matters -- yesterday the Cubs managed to collect 7 hits and draw 4 walks, which really isn't so bad. At the top of the list though has to be Derrek Lee and Micah Hoffpauir. Lee got another two hits while Hoffpauir hit a go-ahead 2 run homer that should've won the game.
Kosuke Fukudome - As Rob might have mentioned, Fooky has been in the Slump of Slumps as of late. Rob has given up on Kosuke, wheras I want to give him a bit more time to get out of this one before also raising the surrender flag on his career as a Cub.
Kevin Gregg - As we noted recently, he's actually been very reliable as of late. But blowing a save and costing the Cubs a win is always reason to fall under the "not" category.
I still think that batting Soriano leadoff is a mistake, but it appears as if he'll stay there forever. Oh well -- I guess the Cubs will have to find a way to win around that particular problem.
Carlos Zambrano (4-2, 3.44 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (6-4, 2.39)
The Cubs travel to an American League park for the first time all season today, which means they can use the DH. Does that mean the offense will improve? On paper it should, but that also means Carlos Zambrano can't hit. I'm writing this early, so my guess is that Micah Hoffpauir will get the start at DH with the righty on the mound. Of course, Milton Bradley could DH and Micah could play OF.
The Cubs remain 2.5 games out after St. Louis' loss last night to the Mets, but the Cubs are facing a first place team that just beat up on the Brewers.
Carlos Zambrano will take the hill for the Cubs. He's been pretty solid of late, and hopefully he can keep the Tiger offense at bay long enough for the Cubs to generate some offense.
Derrek Lee - Lee's been the best hitter of late, and he now owns the best average on the team. Now if anybody else could get hot the Cubs might move to the top of the NL Central.
Mike Fontenot - Mike is 2-for-12 in his last six game with no RBIs or Runs scored.
The Cubs showed a little heart last week picking up four wins a row, but the offense looked bad last night. Tonight's matcup isn't great, but hopefully the Cubs find a way to win.