(and also apparently Kyle ... we'll have the Series Preview late tomorrow, sorry)
Let this be a lesson to you all. It is difficult to blog about something that is often less-than-fun to think about. Maybe that's why abortion blogs are so far and few between. Thus, without warning, it appears as if both Kyle and Chris have gone MIA for their various respected reasons, and so I will be stepping in to quickly throw together something to keep you entertained.
About a month ago, the Boston Red Sox released John Smoltz. The Cubs were at the time desperate for a competent closer. I threw together a post suggesting an idea "so crazy it just might work," ... the Cubs could sign Smoltz to a contract to close.
It went over about as well as vegan pancakes.
Since he signed with the Cardinals, though, St. Louis has quickly propelled their way into a playoff spot. Smoltz has gone 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA and 28 strikeouts and 1 walk in 4 starts. But let's look back on the immediate response:
since the whole "the
players we have need to play better" thing isn't happening - why not
add a new piece? Our payroll sucks as it is - why not completely
I'm wondering if lostinthevines is aware of what St. Louis is paying Smoltz to start.
Then again, what's been wrong with the Cubs couldn't have been solved just by Smoltz, and I doubt that his presence would have made much of a difference -- if at all. Still, could it have hurt?
Anyway. As I write this, the cubs are beating Smoltz and the Cardinals by a score of 2-0 in the 3rd thanks to a Derrek and Aramis double-fest and a Ted Lilly no-hit bid.
Tomorrow, I will have more on this heated rivalry -- particularly my feelings about the cheating nature of Albert Pujols. I'm sure Token Cards Fan has been wondering about how we'd handle this series ... I have to admit I've been gathering the photoshops in anticipation. They will be re-posted soon.
Ah yes, the Cubs and Cardinals. The bitterest of rivals. Their fans hate -- and will occasionally fight -- each other. These two teams have held a stranglehold on the NL Central for most of this decade, with the '06 World Champion Cardinals coming out ahead.
Rather than make a traditional Series Preview, I thought I'd do one better ... here's a series of many of the Cardinals photoshops we've done through the years. In theory, you'll be able to tell the older from the newer based on how much they suck.
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Ross Ohlendorf (10-8, 4.30 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (7-7, 4.30 ERA)
The Cubs really need to sweep here this weekend, because a trip out West looms with the Dodgers. The Cardinals are pretty close to sweeping the Padres, and the Cubs need to keep pace heading into the road trip. The Cards play three against the Dodgers, before getting a four-game series against the Padres. The Cubs luck has them playing three against the Padres, with four against the Dodgers. So, it is imperative that the Cubs find a way to club Ross Ohlendorf.
Is it possible for Ohlendorf to have 10 wins? The Pirates only have 46 wins as a team, but Ohlendorf has been able to scratch out a few W's. For the Cubs, Rich Harden heads back to the mound after a heartbreaking loss last Tuesday. Harden was perfect through five, then he gave a walk and a home run to tie the game at 2-2. Hopefully, he has the same stuff this time out and the offense gives him a little help.
The Cubs did game a .5 game in the Wild Card after the Rockies and Marlins were rained out yesterday, but they still remain in 5th place.
Jeff Baker - Baker is playing 2B for the long haul it looks like. He had two RBI yesterday, including his second home run as a Cub. He's got a 1.298 OPS in his last seven games.
Geovany Soto - This might be a little early, but any news is good news right? Soto picked up two more hits yesterday after getting a hit on Friday. Hey, at this point we'll take any production we can get.
Alfonso Soriano - What can I say? Well, my mom raised me to think that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all. Well, let me say that in his last seven games, Soriano has 3 hits in 29 at bats. That says it all to me.
The Cubs should win today. They seem to beat up on the bad teams, and run away against the good ones. Maybe a trip to San Diego will help them prepare for the Dodgers, or at least give us a little more false hope for another week.
The Cubs are in first! How lovely.
Considering the astounding number of talking heads and idiot columnists in the sports world these days, I'm kinda surprised no one wrote about this a few days back. The Cubs' sweep of the Reds was not an earth-shattering result, and did anyone really expect the Cardinals to beat the Phillies at home?
As a result, we get to have that, "If the season ended right now..." conversation as many times as we'd like today. Of course, we've still got more than one-third left of the season to play out before anything's decided. With that, I thought I'd take a look at both teams' upcoming schedules, to get a gauge on what's reasonable to expect going forward.
The Cubs and Cards each close out the month of July with a four-gamer. Both teams are at home, but the quality of their opponents isn't quite equal.
The Cubs take on the Astros, a team that has somehow played its way into third place in the NL Central. It's true that the offense has some pretty huge holes in it throughout the line-up. However, as you'll see in the upcoming Series Preview, the Cubs have a couple of tough pitching match-ups ahead of them. Neither of the first two games (Z vs. Wandy, Demp vs. Oswalt) will be easy wins by any means. If the Cubs drop both, they'll need Randy Wells and Kevin Hart to pitch well against Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz to salvage a series split.
At the same time, it doesn't look like the Cardinals will have much of an advantage in any of their match-ups, either. Their series probables are: Wolf vs. Carpenter, Billingsley vs. Wainwright, Kershaw vs. somebody (TBA), and Kuroda vs. Lohse. If Carp and Wainwright go nuts, the Cards might get lucky with Lohse and take three of four. More likely, they'll split, or worse.
It'll be important for the Cubs to pick up a game on their way into August, because it'll be a tough month to try to stay in the lead.
Generally, there's the issue of opponents' winning percentage. The Cards take on teams with a collective .449 winning percentage, while the Cubs take on a schedule with a .490 percentage.
There are a few key series that explain the difference in strength of schedule. The Cardinals have arguably one tough series, a three-gamer at Los Angeles. In contrast, the Cubs have three difficult series in August: four games of their own at Dodger Stadium, playing host for three games to the Phillies, and four games in Colorado against a surprisingly spunky Rockies team.
Pitching match-ups and reinforcements from the disabled list will hopefully give the Cubs the extra oomph they need to carry the division lead into September. In the meantime, it'll be important to take advantage of this next series, to try to get some breathing room before heading into August.
Back to the now-infamous Series Preview. I wrote:
...if Lohse had to exit even earlier on Sunday, and if Wainwright stayed in too long on Sunday night and gave up bundles of runs in the 7th or 8th?
Phase Three: FAIL.
It's hard to rough up a pitcher who only needs 90-or-so pitches to get into the 8th. Maybe the Cubs were anxious to start their mid-season vacations, or perhaps the team is just utterly hapless against top-notch pitching, but no matter how you look at it the Cardinals were in control all night long.
And so, we are left with a Cubs team in the same spot they were in before the 4-game series: at .500, 3.5 games out of first place in a division nobody wants to win. A small consolation Cub fans -- the Cardinals and their fans came to Chicago to bury the Cubs and failed.
Other small consolations from last night:
-Signs of life from Milton Bradley: Don't Wake went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI
-More leadoff success from the reincarnation of Doug Dascenzo: Sam Fuld went 2 for 3 with a walk
-One of the craziest managerial moves we've seen in a while. In the 9th, with the bases loaded, no outs, and a plethora of lefties coming up behind a righty, Lou took relief pitcher Sean Marshall off the mound and inserted him in left field. Aaron Heilman came in, got the out, and Marshall then returned to the mound to finish the ending. Even Tony "Crazy-Ass Moves" LaRussa was impressed.
On the other hand, Ryan Theriot made a ridiculous fielding error in that inning which led the Cubs into needing to encorporate that nutty strategy. But worst of all, Milton Bradley, Jeff Baker, and Micah Hoffpauir all took their bats in the 9th by striking out looking. Maybe Franklin's stuff is just that sick but Lou Piniella is not known to tolerate lightly the "struck out looking in the 9th" scenario.
So. An ultimately disappointing -- but not crushing -- series. I'm coming to expect more of the same in the second half. I'd say at this point that the Cubs don't look like the worst team in the league but they are clearly not the best. An 81-81 record might be just on track and I'll have to craft a Zambran-0-Meter of Diminished Expectations before the break ends.
Current Record: 43-43
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 119-43
Worst Possible Record: 43-119
Record needed to win 110: 57-9
On Pace For: 81-81
if Lohse had to exit even earlier on Sunday, and if Wainwright stayed
in too long on Sunday night and gave up bundles of runs in the 7th or
Phase Two: Complete.
Granted, the Cubs didn't chase Lohse particularly early, but the Cardinals were forced to turn to three relievers to get through the final 4 innings of today's game. That puts them at having used 5 relievers in the past 2 days. Chances are they will recycle a few for tonight's game, but the Cubs only need to take Wainwright for rides early and often or exploit him in the late innings to pretty much accomplish everything we could've hoped for.
This afternoon's win came from the arm of Carlos Zambrano -- who had one rocky inning and was otherwise on his game -- and also from his bat, along with Micah Hoffpauir's. The Hoff gave the Cubs an early lead with a 3-run, 1st inning homer and Carlos put them ahead for good in the 4th with his solo shot. By the time the Cardinals' defense collapsed and the Cubs tacked on 3 more in the 7th it was already over.
So, points to the Cubs who kept Lee and Ramirez in reserve for tonight's game, and who are now on track to get back into the race for the division in epic fashion.
Everything happens. Maybe even a few Cubs surprises.
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!
Can you imagine what would happen if they chased Thompson in the 4th,
if Lohse had to exit even earlier on Sunday, and if Wainwright stayed
in too long on Sunday night and gave up bundles of runs in the 7th or
Phase One: Complete.
I'll say again that the Cardinals are idiots if they plan on running their less-reliable starter out there first tomorrow. They're already pretty much down two relievers as both Kinney and Hawksworth went more than 1 inning (although I'm sure we'll see at least one of them tomorrow).
Meanwhile, the Cubs offense pretty much matched yesterday's output -- 9 hits, 3 walks, but this time they scored 5 runs while their pitcher Ted Lilly went 8 strong innings for his 9th win.
Contributing to the offensive barrage was Aramis (1 for 4, 1 RBI), Alfonso "Can We Trade Him" Soriano, Milton "Don't Wake Daddy" Bradley, And Jeff "I DON'T KNOW WHO THIS GUY IS!!" Baker.
And the Cubs chose not to walk Pujols. I'm not sure why. Like Carlos Lee, he should never see a strike when facing the Cubs. I don't care if he's 60 and geriatric (and he's probably well on his way) if Grandpa Pujols walkered his way up to the plate, hefted a bat with his shaking hands, and saw a single strike I would be pissed. He's a Cub killer, amiright?
Tomorrow the Cubs play ... for the season.
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.
I don't think there's an intelligent Cub fan out there who thinks the Cubs will sweep.
And yet here we are, acting as if the defeat of the Cubs at the hands of the best Cardinals pitcher -- who faced off against the least reliable Cubs pitcher -- is somehow a betrayal or a surprise. Sorry, folks, but it definitely wasn't.
Instead I'll just note the following:
Batting stats for the month of July
Alfonso Soriano - 6 for 24 (.250 AVG), 2 doubles, 0 homers, .613 OPS.
Milton Bradley - 4 for 21 (.191 AVG) 1 homer, 9 BB, .767 OPS. (And to think that there were blogs out there which criticized our F/F+ rating of Bradley this year)
Geovany Soto - 4 for 18 (.222 AVG)
It's kind of hard to contest the nay-sayings of Rob when three regulars are combining to bat .222 for the month. Then again, the Cubs have had 3 (or more) out of 8 regulars doing that every single month this season, hence the preposterously bad record.
Yesterday, the Cubs batted .250 as a team -- seems less impressive when 2 of their 9 hits came from Rich Harden -- and would have been shut out were it not for Derrek Lee's 3 run homerun.
Still, when Harden left it was a 1-run game. Then Aaron Heilman came in and crapped his pants in front of 40,000 people, putting the game out of reach.
However I'll bring it back to the first thing I said. Anybody who thought the Cubs would sweep is crazy. But with Carpenter gone, it becomes a much closer series and I truly believe anything can happen.
By the way, a note to Lou Piniella: intentionally walk Pujols. Do it every single time. Or blow in a drug test, either way.