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.
Okay, "the battle for everything that's right and wrong in the world" may be a bit of an exaggeration. But as we enter the final series before the All Star break, we have to come to terms with a few things.
First, clearly, this is a season in which the Everything that Could Go Wrong Effect is in play. Star sluggers get hurt, expensive players underperform, valuable role-players don't take to their new jobs, pitchers suffer hard luck losses, and everybody loses. I mean, that's what this is - a season of losses for the Cubs. Between losing games on the field they're losing players, to stupid injuries (Ryan Dempster), idiotic suspensions (Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano), and so-on.
In the meantime, off the field the Cubs are entangled in the longest, most embarassing team sale I've ever followed. Seriously, can they do nothing right? Tom Ricketts has been working on finalizing his bid for six months in a sale that has been ongoing for more than two years -- and right when you think the path is finally approaching the clearing, it turns out that some other jabrone might swoop in and buy the team. You know, just in case the other one doesn't take.
Consequently, the Cubs are stuck with a bunch of players who can't be traded -- they're too expensive or have no-trade clauses. And they can't upgrade without dumping salary because Jim Hendry bound his hands through throwing piles of money at Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, and Kosuke Fukudome -- the most incompetent near-200 million dollar outfield in baseball this year. Even if the team gave up on the year and decided to trade off their parts they'd be hard to find takers for their biggest busts.
In other words, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. And yet, the Cubs could theoretically be in first place by Sunday night if they can dominate the Cardinals at home.
Not that it would be easy. Far from it, on the contrary, I don't think there's an intelligent Cub fan out there who thinks the Cubs will sweep. But it's kind of amazing to think that in this, our season of woe, despite all the things that have gone wrong the Cubs are within striking distance of a playoff spot. I mean, let's look at this season objectively. Your big money pitcher suffers terrible luck before breaking his toe and going on the DL for a month. Your ace setup man can't find home plate with a compass and a magnifying glass. Your star slugging third baseman makes a dive for a ball but leaves his shoulder back over there somewhere, forcing your slumping second baseman to play his position for months. Your entire outfield dramatically underperforms, taking what should have been a strength and turning it into a gaping, inescapable hole in your lineup. It turns out that your catcher is a pot head and the stress of the world knowing may have contributed to his horrible start to the season. Not to mention your fireballing, strikeout machine pitcher is getting lit on a regular basis up like one of said catcher's doobies. Oh, and your rival team's first baseman is having a season that Babe Ruth would be jealous of.
You'd think, with all of that, that your team would be in an epic battle with the Pirates for the NL Central basement. So I say again, as I have said before, maybe this thing is ours to lose. Because if that much can go wrong and they're still in the hunt, then they just might not go away. And if we can agree that there is no such thing as luck (rather, a lot of chance and coincidence) then before it's over the pendulum will swing the other way. Just some food for thought.
Friday, July 10th Rich Harden vs. Chris Carpenter
Two often-injured, ace-like pitchers squaring off. One will get hurt. The other will ... also get hurt. (Just maybe not today.) It has not been Harden's year. He's in the final season of his contract and rather than going the Ryan Dempster route and pitching his ass toward a big pay day he's taking the Matt Clement route and pitching his ass toward becoming a free agent bargain for somebody other than the Cubs.
Chris Carpenter, meanwhile, has pitched more this season than he's done in the past two years combined. If he's healthy, it will be tough for a rocky Cubs offense to overcome.
Saturday, July 11th Ted Lilly vs. Brad Thompson
Lilly has proven to be Hendry's best acquisition. He has been reliable, steady, consistent, psychotic -- everything you look for in a #2 or #3 pitcher. He is also the sole representative of the Cubs to the All Star Game this year -- anybody remember how last year's game was practically the AL vs. the Cubs? Ahh, those were the days.
Brad Thompson should be nicknamed the Turtle. Go back and look at his player pic -- tell me that guy's not a terrapene carolina. Either way he's got a face like his curveball -- people love to hit it. Thompson is one of the weak links of the Cardinals rotation. This is a must-win game of the series.
Sunday, July 12th Randy Wells vs.Kyle Lohse
Randy Wells is my favorite baseball story. After pitching 8 games before getting his first Major League win, he's gone out and won 4 straight. Still, it seems as if he hasn't really captured the imagination of Cub fans like Wood, Prior, and Zambrano did. Maybe we're just a little more hardened now? Or are we afraid that he is the 2000's version of Amaurey Telemaco? At this point, though, I can comfortably say that I welcome the trading of other, more expensive Cub starters because Wells has convinced me that he is a worthy option to start for the team not just this season but next season as well.
If Brad Thompson is the weak link of the Cardinals rotation, then Kyle Lohse is the link connected to the weak link. (Yeah, that was a crappy metaphor, sorry.) Lohse has had forearm problems, causing him to miss games. I'm thinking it might be a mistake that he's scheduled to start the first game of the double header. If the Cubs can take advantage of his rust -- he hasn't pitched in over a month -- or if he hurts himself again and St. Louis has to turn to their bullpen early, then it just might be a Sunday route for the Cubs as LaRussa may have to keep Adam Wainwright in the night game for too long.
Sunday, July 12th Carlos Zambrano vs. Adam Wainwright
Everybody's mad at Carlos. He's not pulling his weight, they say. He doesn't have the composition -- or the stats -- of an ace. I can't blame people for feeling that way, but blaming Carlos for being 4-4 is similar to blaming Wells for starting 0-3. Zambrano has been pretty steady, he just hasn't gotten the run support.
Adam Wainwright is on pace to win 17 games. Therefore I hate him. That is all.
Who the hell knows? Maybe -- just maybe -- Rich Harden will revert to form, giving the Cubs the ability to win a 2-1 ballgame. Or maybe the Cubs will light Carpenter up and it won't matter. Maybe Brad Thompson will fail to elevate himself and get hammered by the Cubs. 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 8th?
I know it doesn't necessarily look it -- and it sure as hell doesn't feel it -- but this actually is a very good opportunity for a very bad-luck team. I'm not predicting sweep, but much as when the Brewers were in town I actually feel as if this is the Cubs' series to lose. And I ask you, for one brief moment, to consider what it would be like if they pulled off a big win. If the Cubs swept the Cardinals going into the break, wouldn't the second half look that much better?
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Although I almost dug my heart out with an old wooden spoon yesterday in the wake of loss #7, I'm partially relieved that the rest of the division had a somewhat "meh"-ish week as well. In the last 10 games, no team in the NLC has a record better than 6-4 (Brew, Cards, Bucs). Yay for synchronized mediocrity.
Tribune power rankings: Brewers, Cards, Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Astros
1. St. Louis Morans (26-18) Previous ranking: 4
The Cards can thank the Cubs for giving them the confidence they needed to start playing like the best friggin pitching staff in Tony La Russa's time as their manager. Your welcome St. Louis. (PS - As I write this, Carpenter is pitching a no-no against the Brewers. I hate everything.)
2. Milwaukee Makers Of Why I Hate Myself On Sunday Mornings (26-18) Previous ranking: 1
Being swept by the Twins has cooled them off a bit and brought them back to the pack, but they are still scary at the plate and have a solid team OBP (.345). Did I mention that they currently have no hits against the Cardinals and Yovani Gallardo is also pitching a no hitter? Double jinx bitches.
3. Cincinnati Ready For The DL (23-20) Previous ranking: 3
And down goes Edison Volquez. The unraveling begins. On a side note, Homer Bailey will be taking Volquez's spot in the rotation. Is there a worse name for a pitcher than Homer?
4. Chicago Cubs (21-21) Previous ranking: 2
The one constant during this slump has been the lineup, which aside from the occasional sub has remained relatively the same. This may sound crazy, but perhaps it's time to move D-Lee back to the No. 3 spot. That formula has worked for the last two years. Just saying.
5. Somalia Pirates...too soon? (20-24) Previous ranking: 5
If the Pirates go into Wrigley and win two of three (or get the sweep) then I will officially start to worry. But come on. Their pitching staff ranks last in the NL in strikeouts, so the Cubs should at least be able to put the ball in play and stretch out those legs.
6. Houston Colt .45's (18-24) Previous ranking: 6
This is a much better team name, right? Why do we let stupid people run baseball teams?
Sean Marshall (2-2, 4.02 ERA) vs. Adam Wainrwright (3-2, 3.83 ERA)
The Cubs hope to find their offense tonight against Adam Wainwright, after two days of nothing. The Cubs have looked lifeless on offense, and if it weren't for a two-out pinch hit single by Micah Hoffpauir the Cubs would've been shut out twice in a row.
Both games have been close thanks to good pitching preformances from Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. Tonight, Sean Marshall takes the mound in possibly his final start, before getting moved to the pen to replace our favorite lefty Neal Cotts. I don't know if that is a good move, but Lou hasn't used him in weeks.
The Cubs are still 3 games back after the Brewers lost to the Astros last night. There isn't much to say after the last two nights.
The other news involves Jake Peavy, who once was rumored to be heading to the North Side. There is a chance he could be headed to the White Sox. I know some people are upset about this, but the Cubs really need offense right now and not starting pitching. Now, if we could trade for a lefty in the pen or another solid bullpen guy, that might actually help.
The Cardinal pitchers - the Cubs have scored 1 run in two games.
The Cub hitters - they have manged 1 run in two days.
The Cubs need to score about five runs in the first inning just to take the pressure off themselves. I've predicted wins in the last two nights. So no predictions tonight. I just hope the Cubs put a better fight.
It's a tough loss, to be sure. No one likes to watch their team put up just one run in 18 innings.
While that sucks, let me see if I can talk you off the ledge anyway.
For one, the pitching has been brilliant. Demp was pretty excellent tonight, and Lilly did well for himself last night as well. It's starting to look like the Cubs will have legitimately fantastic starting pitching throughout this season. Of course you're gonna lose a couple close ones like tonight and last night every once in a while, but over the course of 162 games, I think I'll take the Cubs rotation over any other in the league.
On the other side of the ball, the Cubs have one major issue on offense. They're lacking power. It appears there are two hitters in the Cubs' system capable of helping deal with this problem. Unfortunately, Lou is having a tough time finding a spot in the lineup for either Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox.
The trouble with lacking power is, in these close games you often find yourself saying: "We're one swing away." Well, who's gonna give us that one swing? Is it Derrek Lee? Or Milton Bradley? We miss you, Clutchy McClutcherson.
Having said all that, I have one final note for all you ledge jumpers out there: after tonight's game, the Cubs are 11-6 this month, with games against the Padres and Pirates remaining on the schedule. An 18-11 month is very much within reach, and this without our best hitter.
Let's steal one tomorrow, yeah? Go Cubs!
Ryan Dempster (4-3, 4.65 ERA) vs. Chris Carpenter (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
The Cubs sucked last night. How do I know? Well, they made a case for Joel Pineiro as a Cy Young Award Winner. They got three hits none after the fifth inning. Also, they didn't draw a walk, which is odd for them.
Tonight the Cubs face a pitcher that has been out since early April in Chris Carpenter. He should be rusty, and the Cubs should be ok, but last night has me a little worried.
Ryan Dempster toes the mound for the Cubs. He has been solid of late, and hopefully he has turned a corner.
One positive thing happened last night, Mike Fontenot got a hit. Yay! Now, lets string a few more together.
Derrek Lee - He got another hit last night, so that is a positive sign.
Hmm? The Milwaukee Brewers. Those crazy cheeseheads have won 7 in a row and lead by 3 games now.
Geovanny Soto and Milton Bradley - Both guys are back below .200 again.
The Cubs looked bad last night, so it would be nice for them to get in a groove to take this series. The Brewers and Cardinals have played out of this world for different stretches, and now it is time for the Cubs to get hot.
Well that was fun, huh?
Ted Lilly put up a pretty decent line last night. Usually, 3 runs in 7 innings will do it. But the offense had trouble scoring one run, let alone 3 or 4, against the Dominating Force of Joel Piniero!!!
Piniero had 14 strikeouts in his last 45.1 innings pitched this season, but somehow managed to get five Ks last night. I guess he was just on or something. Maybe on something?
Despite the loss, there were a couple of notable performances from a pair of Cubs that had been in a bit of a rut lately.
Kevin Gregg handled the top of the Cardinals order with relative ease in the top of the eighth, allowing just one hit (a double to Pujols). 12 of his 17 pitches were strikes.
Also, Mike Fontenot's hitless streak is over. He had a two-out double in the top of the fifth inning.
Unfortunately, it was one of only three Cub hits. That's alright, they were just savin' 'em up for tonight's game against Carp. Let's even this one up, huh?
Ted Lilly (5-2, 3.27 ERA) vs. Joel Pineiro (4-3, 4.17 ERA)
The Cubs and Cardinals renew their rivalry in St. Louis tonight. The two teams seem to be heading into opposite directions. The Cardinals are 3-7 in their last 10, while the Cubs are 7-3.
The Cubs would be in first place if it weren't for the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers. As it stands, the Cubs are two games back of the Brewers.
The Cubs have put together a 21-15 record with all kinds of players who haven't played well or are injured.
Tonight the Cubs send Ted Lilly to the mound against Joel Pineiro. The Cubs probably have the better of the match ups tonight, but stranger things have happened.
Derrek Lee - Hello Derrek, welcome to the 2009 season, even if it took him 36 games. In his last seven games, Lee's hitting .333 with 1.012 OPS. I really hope he is breaking out and not just a quick flash in the pan.
Kosuke Fukudome - Who's hitting .400 in his last seven? Well, if you guessed Fukudome, you're right. He's not hitting for power, but he has .454 OBP.
Angel Guzman - He is quickly overtaking Aaron Heilman as the 7th Inning
pitcher. He has looked dominate in the last couple outings, which is
Mike Fontenot - Err, where's Mark Derosa when you need him? Oh right, Cleveland. As for our 2B, he hasn't had a hit since May 9th. He's in the lineup tonight, but with Scales and Freel on the roster, he might start losing AB's.
Neal Cotts and David Patton - Are these guys still on the roster? I guess so, but I feel the winds of change coming.
The Cubs really need to keep hot with the Brewers playing the Astros this week, before heading to Minnesota. The Cubs do end the week in San Diego, so they have a great chance to gain some ground.
What has two thumbs and thought yesterday was Sunday until around midnight and realized he had forgotten to put up his power rankings? This guy.
There was a bit of a Royal Rumble-like fight at the top of the standing throughout the week, which was entertaining. I don’t know if this division is the best in baseball, but it’s certainly the most competitive.
Here is this week’s Chicago Tribune power rankings for comparison: Brewers, Cubs, Cards, Reds, Pirates, Astros.
1. Milwaukee Tony La Russa Juice Makers (24-14) Previous ranking: 4
The Brewers lead the NL in homers but are 12th in batting average and 11th in hits. While I know that batting average isn’t a good indication of a team’s offensive success, I don’t think a team can succeed exclusively on the longball. If that were true, then the Rangers would have like eight championships in the last 10 years.
2. Chicago Cubs (21-15) Previous ranking: 2
Is anyone else starting to like what Angel Guzman is putting together? Gotta love a reliever that isn’t giving out many walks (only 6 in 19 innings). Nice to see Geo is getting his groove back, but how much longer before Lil’ Mikey and his .204 BA starts hearing the boobirds?
3. Cincinnatrually Self-Imploding Reds (20-17) Previous ranking: 3
Compared to the bottom half of the division, they had a decent week despite suffering their first 3-game losing streak of the season. To the surprise of doctors everywhere, the pitchers still has their arms attached to their bodies. As such, the team’s suckalicious offense is being carried by aforementioned arms. As we all know though, it’s only a matter of time with Dusty.
4. St. Louis Birds of Pray Pujols Doesn’t Get Hurt (21-17) Previous ranking: 1
How many injuries does it take to get to fall out of the division lead? Ah 1. Ah 2. Ah 3. CRUNCH. 3. The Cards were fine with Chris Carpenter hurt and survived with Rick Ankiel going down, but the injury to Ryan Ludwick seemed to push them over the edge. They will get healthy eventually, but for the meantime, let the big dogs eat.
5. Sh*tsburgh Pirates (17-21) Previous ranking: 6
I feel that there is always one crappy team that somehow does better against one good team than any other opponent. For the Pirates, that team is the Cardinals. And for that, I move you out of the cellar...Plus I hate the Astros.
6. Houston Nickname That Sounded Cool In 1965 But Is Stupid Today (17-19) Previous ranking: 5
Why is closer Jose Valverde on the DL? While the official report says a strained right calf, the real reason is because I punched him in the face so hard that he can no longer yell crazy things in Spanish when strikes people out. No one on this team is safe from me.
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but as per usual, my time has been at such high demand and those daily transatlantic flights have really been taking it out of me. I’ll try to update this every Monday as the Cubs tend to have most Mondays off throughout the season and it seems to be the unofficial start of the new week.
Since everyone with an Internet connection likes to do “power” rankings (whatever that means), I figure we can do them too. While most experts like to rank all 30 teams, I have neither the time nor the care for anyone outside of the NL Central. Hell, I barely care about any outside of the Cubs, so the other five losers in the division should feel lucky I’ve even mentioning their name. Especially you Houston...good lord do I hate everything about how you choose to be (more on that later).
Also, for fun’s sake, we’ll compare my rankings to those of the Tribune’s Phil Rogers. Here’s how he ordered the division this week: Cards, Cubs, Brewers, Red, Pirates, Assblows. Let’s get started.
1. St. Louis Birds on Artificially Manufactured Wooden Sticks (20-12)
Gotta respect what the Cards have been able to do here early in the season. Clearly they have the best hitter in all of baseball (a title you probably don’t want to have these days) and their bullpen has been surprisingly good. Although the Cards have cooled off over their last 10 games (going 5-5), they have a favorable schedule coming up. STL is 12-5 at home (only the Dodgers and Red Sox are better in their own parks) and 17 of their next 26 games are at Buschhhhhhhhhhhhh.
2. Chicago Cubs (17-14)
So the blue and red flag might fly below three others tonight in the NLC standings, but that really doesn’t mean dick when you’re only 2.5 games out of first place. While some of us might be a little...distraught...over the current incarnation of the Cubbies, I’m cautiously optimistic if not encouraged. The team has been relatively spoiled the last two years as most of the big names have avoided injuries, but now it is all starting to pile on at once. A cause for concern? Hell yes, but look where the Cubs are. Two and half out with a team made up of guys who were getting PT in Iowa this time last year. If Lou can get the right chemistry in the bullpen and/or the Cubs can get their big names back and swinging, the rest of the division might want to invest in a pair of Oops I Crapped My Pants.
3. Cincinasty Reds (18-14)
I absolutely refuse to give Dusty Baker any sort of credit for this team’s decent start, so let’s not even think it's possible that Baker has somehow worked his magic on a club that will most likely falter in about a month. Sure, they just finished an impressive series against the Cardinals, but this team confuses me dearly. First of all, they are 7-9 at home and 11-5 on the road (best road record in the majors). Do you really think they will be able to win like this all season? Oh, and try to figure out this logic. The Harangutan has a 2.93 ERA and a 3-3 record while Bronson Arroyo is 5-2 with a 7.02 ERA. Argh, DUSTY!!!!!!!!!
4. Chicago’s Northern-Most Suburb Brewers (18-14)
What did I learn from the latest series between the Cubs and Crew? I learned that Ryan Braun is really dangerous but also a little school boy biatch (Oh no poor Ryan, did the scary Canadian with the goatee throw the ball to close to you? Let me taste your tears). I learned that even though the Brewers were at full strength for that series, they really aren’t that much better than half a Cubs team. I learned that as long as the Brewers trot that bullpen out there on a daily basis, they will never win this division. And I learned that my George Foreman Grill does not cook my chicken evenly (I didn’t learn that from the series, but I was making some dinner during one of the games and needless to say I was disappointed).
5. Houston AssTrolls (14-17)
I could analyze Houston’s most recent performances...or I could list all the reasons what I hate them: I hate how Miguel Tejada has to clap his hands furiously after he does anything that is remotely decent. I hate how Hunter Pence looks like he running around with suitcases in his hands. I hate how the Astros thought it was a good idea to have Russ Ortiz, LaTroy Hawkins and Mike Hampton on their team all at the same time. I hate how they have not one, but two players on their team named Geoff (Blum and Geary). Most of all, I hate how Lance Berkman looks like Tony Stewart and both are considered “elite athletes.”
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (12-19)
I haven’t had the chance to take a good look at the ‘Rates this
season since they have yet to play the Cubs, but losing your last 9
games cannot be good for business (at least that’s what I’ve
been told). Maybe the Pirates decided they were playing too good and
decided to go into a slump so they could attack under the cover of
mediocracy? The last thing Pittsburgh wants to do is gain any sort of
attention so opponents start taking them seriously, right? Well played
Pirates. Well played indeed.