When the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the 12th, I was thinking the top of the 13th would be a breeze.
"What they should do here," I said to myself, "is let the NL leader in stolen bases take first on a base hit to lead off. They'll waste an out on Kaz calling for a bunt. Then we walk Tejada, because everyone knows Carlos Lee sucks in the late innings against young pitchers who rely too much on their fastball! Easy DP."
To continue my lengthy soliloquy, I pondered, "Now what would make the most sense for the bottom of the 13th? Lee, Ramirez, and Bradley are due up... They'll probably figure out a way to get on base. What I really want to have happen is for Soriano, the guy with three strikeouts and another out on a bad hustle play, to have to win this game. Naturally, I can expect him to hit a grand slam home run to put the game away and give the Cubs another night in first place."
It made sense then, and it makes sense now.
At times, it seemed as though the Cubs were trying to give this one away. In the bottom of the 9th, Lou seemed to overthink a bases-loaded, one-out situation. Rather than use Jake Fox to try to bring the winning run home, Lou played The Handedness Game, putting in a lefty (Fontenot) to face Valverde.
Things looked more or less fine, until a 1-1 pitch from Valverde went outside. Fontenot tried to bunt, but couldn't get the bat on the ball; at the same time, Milton Bradley broke from third. The squeeze was foiled, and the game slogged on.
Excellent outings from the bullpen regulars. Heilman, Marmol and Marshall were shutdown. On top of that, the Jeffs (Stevens and Samardzija) contributed 3.2 scoreless innings, giving the Cubs every chance to win.
And win they did, in grand fashion. After failing to capitalize on early opportunities, the Cubs finally broke through the Astros bullpen and, after loading the bases with no outs, Alfonso Soriano hit the game-winner in grand fashion.
I saw that one coming, too -- or at least, I entertained the possibility when I noticed the bases were juiced. "It'd just be fitting," I told myself, "for Soriano to not only win the game with a hit, but to win it definitively." Granted, I was in an empty room at the time, and talking to one's self out loud and later admitting to it on a blog is probably on the wrong side of the crazy line, but I was right.
This was one of those games that could mean more than a simple W in the standings. Not that the Cubs necessarily need it -- they've already seemed to find the momentum they've been lacking all year long. But consider that the Astros have been even hotter than the Cubs this month, and yet the bullpen managed to hold them to 0 runs for 6 innings. Then, consider that Soriano has turned a cold streak into a career move, but last night's grand slam is the icing on top of a great month for him.
This was a gutsy win, and a much-needed victory that helps Chicago keep pace in the NL Central. Tomorrow, the Cardinals face Chad Billingsley, while we get Roy Oswalt, and a thin Astro bullpen. Guzman and Gregg should be available for the Cubs.
One random thought on the Cubs-Phillies Games
In the ShoutBox yesterday, one reader suggested that it's difficult to really get excited because the Cubs got beaten by the Phillies not too long ago. But consider the facts...
The Cubs lost two games out of three on the road against one of the best teams in the NL. Their first loss -- a blow-out -- occurred in part because it was Ted Lilly pitching for the Cubs. Lilly has since then been placed on the DL with a sore shoulder and had his knee scoped. Might it be fair to suggest that on most days, Lilly and the Cubs do not surrender 10 runs to the Phillies?
The second game, which they also lost, took 13 innings of play. The Phillies didn't exactly win with authority.
And the third game was a Cubs route. Just saying -- with a healthy Lilly on the mound, the Cubs may not have lost two games there -- and even the loss that came "honestly" was one that also came in extra innings.
This game looked like it was going to be a complete and utter thrashing during the bottom of the first inning. The team had hit for the cycle within the inning, and the bases were loaded with one out for Koyie "Iron Man" Hill.
Stupidly, Koyie swung at the first pitch. Arguably, the rout was over.
Regardless, the Cubs continued to battle, and good pitching kept the Reds in check throughout the game. Nice win!
Fortunately for the Cubs, Kevin Hart was able to settle in after a mildly shaky top of the first. Hart's final line: 6 IP in 94 pitches, 5H, 1BB, 4SO, 1ER. Smashing!
The Other Stuff:
If not for the gutty performance from our starting pitcher, Alfonso Soriano might have to have been named the Player of the Game for today. The Fonz went 3-for-4, including a solo shot to deep left on a low breaking ball. I don't know what's gotten into him, but I am very much in favor of it. Whatever it is. (Common sense? Nah.)
Also adding on to the late Cub lead was Milton "The Rumors Are False!" Bradley (Note: despite rumors that stated otherwise, it appears that Milton will remain a Cub this season). It's encouraging to see him go deep every once in a while; he and Aramis Ramirez now have the same number of homers.
Also, speaking of A-Ram, Clutchy McClutcherson continued to rack up RBIs today, driving home two runs on a first inning homer. God, it's good to have him back.
The starting pitching and offense were solid, and for the most part, the bullpen was too. Aaron Heilman had a rare bad outing, serving up two jacks to Reds hitters before KG came in for the one out save. But Marmol struck out the side, and Guzman was super kewl.
Now let's sit back and enjoy the Phillies' drubbing of the Cardinals. Ladies and gentlemen, it appears as though tomorrow may present the Cubs with an opportunity to assume first place in the Division.
As in, OMGWTF?!?!?!?!?!?!?
I guess all it takes to wake up the Cubs' bats (other than two days of suck) is an ancient lefty soft-tosser. Something about the line-up being predominantly right-handed, need a lefty power bat, can't get it? Whatever.
Anyways, the Cubs won today! Woo hoo!
Lots of Cubs had multiple hits today (Theriot, A-Ram, Bradley, and Soriano). Also, Ryan Theriot stole three bases. I guess that means he'll get picked off twice tomorrow.
Despite the offensive onslaught, only two of our 13 hits went for extra bases (both doubles), and only one of our runs scored with two outs. So, still no soul-crushing big hits, still no clutch performances, but 11 singles and 9 walks should get you somewhere.
Z was actually really hittable today, giving up 10 hits in his start, along with three walks. But it was good enough for today, thanks to all the Cubs that got themselves safely to first over and over.
As far as the series goes, I for one think these three games were pretty indicative of what we can expect from the team here on out.
Some days they'll slap a bunch of singles off a crap starter having a bad day, and some days all those pokes will roll right to infielders and will mostly turn into outs. Against top line starting pitching (guys like Rodrigo Lopez and Joe Blanton), the Cubs will have trouble scoring runs. And the whole time, the pitching will be more or less good enough to give the team a chance to win.
We will continue to hold out hope for this offense. It'd be great if Soto could heal up by, say, tomorrow. The Baker/Fontenot platoon at second base looks pretty alright. If Bradley can get better, and Soriano can stay hot... well, then, who knows what might happen.
Getting Dempster back soon will make the pitching that much better. I hope the Cubs quit jerking Samardzija around and just stash him in Iowa for the rest of the season when Demp does come back (we need him to start, not handle mop-up).
Beyond those things, what else can you really do?
Current Record: 48-45
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 1.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 117-45
Worst Possible Record: 48-114
Record needed to win 110: 52-5
On Pace For: 83-79
Ted Lilly did not pitch well. He gave up home runs with men on base, as well as many hits overall.
On the positive side, the bullpen did pitch well. Jeff Stevens, Aaron Heilman, and Angel Guzman allowed one hit (a Ryan Howard solo shot) and no walks over the last four innings of the game.
Now, back to the negatives.
The offense sucked. They had six hits. Half of those were collected by Alfonso Soriano. The other three were doubles by Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot, and pinch-hitter Andres Blanco.
That means our 3, 4, and 5-hitters all posted oh-fers. The same goes for the 7 and 8 spots (Font and Hill) as well.
So, yeah. Not a good game. My consolation for you this morning? Remember this--just as 11-3 drubbings of the lowly Nationals count as one win, 10-1 beatdowns at the hands of the Phillies only count as one loss. If it were 10-9, or 1-0, a loss is a loss.
Let's try calling this one a bad night and see where it gets us for the rest of the series.
Ah yes. A 10-run drubbing, also known as "the reason dopey Cub fans feel vindicated for doubting." You know, I know, even the Phillies know that, more often than not, Ted Lilly's not going to get his ass kicked the way he did last night, not by the Phillies nor by anybody else.
Still, Philadelphia has a scary offense. Actually, though, I think their pitching is overrated -- at least by Kyle, who complimented them in his Series Preview. If they weren't desperate for arms, they wouldn't have sprung for Pedro.
Anyway, as a fan I'd almost rather get blown out than see the team lose a close one. Last night wasn't really painful -- it was comical. A loss tonight, however, would be painful. So, memo to the Cubs: don't lose.
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.
Let's face it Cub's fans this season has been a disappointment thus far. There is a good chance the Cubs may need more than Aramis to get out of this funk. After last season, I thought the Cubs needed to add some pieces to prove they truly deserved the title of World Series contender.
Their most tradable player was Mark DeRosa. There was a huge belief that he peaked and it was very unlikely that he would not match last year's output. I agreed with that belief. A player who never hit more than 13 home runs in the season and before the age of 30 didn't hit double digit home runs in his career was probably would not to have season that matched '08. In hindsight, the reason why they traded DeRosa made some sense. The Cubbies also dumped Jason Marquis (somehow one of the leaders in wins.) Chicago was trying to gain the pieces to trade for Peavy. Given Zambrano's emotional and recent physical issues, it was understood that Hendry felt the Cubs needed a true ace.
Another incredibly more important issue Hendry had to answer was the Cubs need for another bat. His belief that the Cubs lineup was too right handed bought in Aaron Miles and the infamous Milton Bradley. Here is where things go really interested. In addition to these acquisitions, the Cubs let go of Jim Edmonds, Daryle Ward, and Hank White. Jim Edmonds was crucial for the Cubs last season. He had two clutch home runs against his former team; the hated St. Louis Cardinals. He also brought a number of exciting catches with him. However, he was at the end of the road, and there was no way the Cubs were going to resign him. Daryle Ward had a number clutch hits, but Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox more than replaced him. Henry Blanco on the other hand was the only man in history who could pull of a feathered mullet and tattoos. He was Big Z’s countryman. He gave guidance to Carlos. Unfortunately, he would have asked more money than the Cubs were willing to give him.
Essentially, Milton Bradley or “board game was brought into replace DeRosa’s bat in the lineup. Ideally, Fontenot would have replaced Edmonds production. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Fontenot instead of living up to the nickname of “Little Babe Ruth” has turned into “Mini Mickey Morandini” (or Mini Morandini for short). Kosuke Fukudome was expected to be much better than last year. So far, his fall has come sooner than last season. Based on last season, Milton Bradley was a great acquisition. He put up great numbers in Texas. He lead the AL in on base percentage and OPS. He even lead the majors in OPS+ which takes ballpark into consideration. One problem with Bradley was that he played more than 120 games in season only twice in nine seasons. Everyone knew about Milton being a head case. This season has only given further proof of his jackassery. In Zambrano’s own words, Milton is the living embodiment of a “screw.” Worst of all, this season he really stinks. To put things in perspective, Scott Podsednik was taken off the trash heap and he has a higher batting average, more RBIs, and only two less home runs. This is while playing fewer games than “Board Game”. I realize this is beating a dead horse, but if he played better we would probably forgive his idiocy.
Now, it is unfair to blame all of the Cubs problems on Milton and Hendry, but they have to take a huge chunk of the blame. The assumption was that the combo Bradley and Fontenot would make up 40 home runs and 136 RBIs. Fukudome was asked to bat 40 points higher than last season and produce more runs. Neither of these has happened. In my opinion only Fukudome’s hitting was the only thing that could be expected. One can say that the loss of Aramis was huge. Yes, his injury was huge loss, but it did not cause Soto bat around .220, it didn’t cause Fontenot to resemble former Cub Mickey Morandini. Soriano is a hacker that rarely thinks about pitches, so how would Aramis’ presence made any difference in his performance?
At the beginning of the season, I felt the Cubs would win 88 games and win the division. Hendry really didn’t improve the team. In fact, the team has taken a step back talent wise.
Sure, Edmonds was old and on a downslide, but it would have made more sense to find someone who could play in right field who could replace his power numbers. Everyone and their dog knew there was no way the Cubs could do anything but continue to play Fukudome. They had no choice but to platoon him with Reed Johnson.
Last season, there were a number of wins by the Cubs where they had problems against the starter but were able to light up the other teams relievers. That is what we saw against the Indians. This season starters have gone further against the Cubs. This team needed another bat, not a replacement for DeRosa. If Bradley was supposed to be a left-handed replacement for DeRosa, then he was a clearly more expensive one. If they wanted another leftie in the lineup, they could have started Fontenot and still moved DeRosa to right field. That would have been a cheaper alternative for the same result. You don’t have to overburden your lineup with lefties if they are mediocre or bad. The Phillies’ lineup is an anomaly. There is no point trying to emulate the Philadelphia lineup. The Cubs were a good team. Still, I wanted to see the Cubs sign either Ibanez or Abreu(I was leaning towards Abreu). If Hendry had more patience, he would have be able to snag either for a decent cost, but here we are overpaying for crap the next few years.
The Great Carlos Zambrano was, as they say, "super awesome." He pitched eight innings tonight, allowing just one run, and gave the Cubs every opportunity to win tonight's game.
Unfortunately, the offense just wasn't there.
Well, let me clarify that statement--it was kinda there. The Cubs did collect five hits and two walks over the course of Wandy Rodriguez' seven innings. Unfortunately, the only guy that crossed home plate was Geovany Soto, and he got there himself by hitting the ball out of the park.
A game like this one begs a few questions. First, does it suck that Angel Guzman could hardly get an out in the ninth inning? Sure. But can you pin this one on him? I kinda think not. When your team scores one run in a nine-inning game, you can't really blame the pitchers.
Second: Are repeated occurrences of this sort of offensive drought avoidable? Not entirely, no. But Kurt has an idea that needs to be re-stated, reviewed, and then tattooed on to every Cub fan's forehead: HIT SORI LOWER!
Alfonso Soriano has been reeeeally bad lately. And he's also been getting the largest number of plate appearances in every game he's played in. He can't possibly hit any worse than he's been hitting lately; why not give the "middle-of-the-order" experiment another shot?
And finally: How awesome is Carlos Zambrano? The answer is, really, really awesome. As in, like, super awesome. It's just too bad that his stellar performance was wasted, although he has now lowered his ERA to 3.39.
The Cubs play the rubber game tonight.
Randy Wells -- who I now think looks more like Sam from True Blood than K-Fed -- delivered another strong performance. He went 6.2 innings, surrendering 2 runs off of 7 hits and 1 walk. And thanks to the offensive contributions of Ryan Theriot and Derrek Lee, he exited the game in the 7th with another shot at his first win.
Then, Carlos Marmol came in and walked the only 2 batters he faced. Wisely Lou yanked him immediately -- Piniella really needs to start getting stiff with Marmol -- and while Aaron Heilman managed to mostly get the Cubs out of a bases-loaded jam, he was unable to do it before allowing one run to be sac flied-in by ex-Ray Johnny Gomes. More on this play later. With that run went Randy's win, and so our troubles began.
Between the 9th and 14th innings, the Cubs had multiple opportunities to score. They left multiple runners on in all but the 12th inning. They made numerous bonehead plays, like when Theriot botched a hit-and-run with Blanco by striking out, resulting in a double play. In reality the Cubs sloppy offensive play contributed toward this simple conclusion: they did not deserve to win today.
This conclusion is supported by the sloppy defensive play too. In the 8th when the Reds tied it up, Reed Johnson failed to throw a caught ball to the right base resulting in a loss of a double play opportunity. It didn't directly come back to bite the Cubs on the ass but Reed's pointless attempt to gun out Nix at third is just one example of the defense not playing good, fundamental baseball.
Nevertheless, once Marmol was chased into the showers the bullpen did its job rather well. Gregg, Ascanio, Patton, and Guzman combined to give the Cubs six innings of scoreless ball. On a team in which the bullpen is one of the weakest points they delievered. They were able to keep the game tied until the Cubs offense woke up, exploding for 3 runs against the depleted Reds in the 14th. Soriano homered, Fontenot drove in Theriot, and Reed doubled in Fukudome. Just like that an excrutiating game turned into a late blow-out.
So, now the Cubs are in third place. They next travel to Houston to take on the hapless Astros who, despite their haplessness are almost as close to the Cubs as the Cubs are to the Brewers. Just some perspective for ya.
Current Record: 28-26
Position in the NL Central: 3rd place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 136-26
Worst Possible Record: 28-134
Record needed to win 110: 82-26
On Pace For: 84-78
As Len and Bob always say, it's never easy.
The Cubs came through when they needed to in this one. After five solid innings from Astros ace Roy Oswalt, the Cubs' two first basemen both came through in the bottom of the 6th. Derrek Lee brought home Alfonso Soriano with a flip single out to shallow left, and Micah Hoffpauir followed with a "useful shot" into the bleachers to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Geo Soto's RBI in the 8th may have looked unnecessary at the time, but boy was it ever.
After an absolutely dumbfounding performance from the Cubs so-called closer in the top of the 9th (we'll get to that later), the Cubs ended up needing a 5th run in the bottom of the inning to pull out the win--and they got it. Everyone's new favorite Cub Bobby Scales!!! drew a walk on a 3-2 fastball, moved to second on Aaron Miles' sacrifice, and shouted, "Win! Win! Win!" all the way home on a clutch single from Alfonso Soriano. All in all, a great performance from the Cub offense in this game.
Let's do the bad news first: Kevin Gregg was not good today. After giving up back-to-back homers to Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman and Carlos "Also Fat" Lee, Gregg couldn't get any of the next three batters out, and left with the bases loaded. Aaron Heilman came on in "relief," and promptly "relieved" the Cubs of their lead on a two-run single on the first pitch to Pudge Rodriguez.
But hey, there's good news! Randy Wells put up six more scoreless innings today. That's 15.1 scoreless in his career with the Cubs, the first Cub since 1993 to start off on such a good streak. He's been hittable, but has avoided any major damage by allowing just one extra base hit this season (a double to Jason Kendall in his last start, against Milwaukee). In addition, Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol continue to dominate; today they combined for two innings with four strikeouts and zero base-runners.
Should we begin demanding changes in the way Lou trots out his relievers to close games? To be honest, I'm not sure. Before today, Kevin Gregg had pitched 6.2 innings in May, allowing just one run while racking up seven strikeouts. Regardless, it looks like we've got an offense we can trust, even without two of our best hitters in Ramirez and Bradley. Hey, a win's a win, right?