As a former resident of Milwaukee, I came to really enjoy when the Cubs play the Brewers (or at play in Miller Park). Brewers fans are like a more naive version of Cubs fans with even shorter fuses and tolerence for their players (See: Corey Hart, Mat Gamel, JJ Hardy, anyone that's ever pitched there not named CC Sabbathia). At 5-1 on the season against the Brewers so far, apparently the Cubs really like playing Milwaukee as well.
The Brewers have been struggling a lot this year, even when compared to our ballclub. Outside of their ace, Gallardo, the pitching staff lacks an identity. The team just dumped Jeff Suppan (about 2 years too late...). The bullpen is even worse, with future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman unable to nail a game down they Crew has turned their hopes to journeyman John Axford to close out games. The Cubs hope to continue these woes and get themselves back on track as well.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010: Ted Lilly (1-5, 3.61) vs. Yovani Gallardo (6-2, 2.64)
Whenever I think of Yovani Gallardo, all I can think of is the billboard of him near my old place telling me in Spanish to get my swine flu vaccination. He may not have swine flu, but he is pitching like he's got something lately. Over his last 10 starts, Gallardo has gone 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA. Much of this success can be attributed to the fact he is walking fewer batters and staying in the zone. Gallardo really is an "ace" with good stuff so long as he can control it. The best way to get at him is by forcing him to come out of the stretch with men on base and by working the count in order to get his pitch count up (and hopefully, him out of the game earlier)
Lilly has been pretty good lately as well, producing five straight quality starts. His last outing against the Pirates seemed to be smooth sailing until he was bit by a Neil Walker home run in the eighth inning and handed the loss. Regardless, Lilly has looked better and better in each successive start. I expect to see more of the same out of him in Milwaukee.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010: Carlos Zambrano (1-4, 6.14) vs. Randy Wolf (4-5, 4.66)
The Wolf Pack has really been off his game this season. Most of the struggles he has stems from the fact that his walk rate is much higher this year. Despite only issuing 1.7 free passes a game last year, he has walked at least four batters in three of his last four starts. While most teams would see a pitcher like Wolf and pounce on the opportunity to face him at this juncture, the crafty lefty is one of those guys that always seems to give Cubs hitters fits. Hopefully Jaramillo preaches patience Wednesday night.
Big Z likes to pitch in Milwaukee. Hopefully he can continue his success in the ballpark in his second start since coming out of his bullpen role. I personally think there are going to be some growing pains, just as there were with Lilly coming back, but that Z will get a little bit better each start. I guess we will see if my prediction is correct on Wednesday.
Thursday, June 10, 2010: Ryan Dempster (4-5, 3.76) vs. Dave Bush (1-5, 4.97)
Dave Bush makes me smile when I see him as a probable. He was taken out of the rotation last week, and then put back in it this week after the Suppan DFA. When I think of Bush, I think of the home run ball. I think someone is going to win $1000 from the back to back jacks game on Thursday. Just a prediction.
Dempster is coming off a quality start and some actual run support that finally let him get a W. It seems that the home run ball is also back to being relevant for Ryan, so it will be key for him to avoid walks during the game. Honestly, this game has the makings of a home run derby 10-9 type game.
I think the Cubs take 2/3. I like our pitching over theirs, and their pitching is "good" enough to let us run into a few runs.
Randy Wells (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (1-0, 2.41 ERA)
How about that? The Cubs found a way to score some more runs and Ted Lilly tossed six scoreless innings to give the Cubs back-to-back wins. Now the Cubs have a chance to sweep the Brewers once again, which didn't happen a week ago.
Last night the offense was once again powered by Marlon Byrd, who picked up three more hits. Soto picked up two more and even Aramis Ramirez got into the action with a bloop RBI single.
The Cubs are looking better and even the bullpen was effectively wild last night. John Grabow had a chance to blow up, but managed a way out of it with the help of Carlos Zambrano.
What was really nice was the top of the 8th inning when the Cubs tacked on three extra runs, including Big Z's Sac-Fly. On the mound, Z did give up a run but got the job done as the Cubs held on to the 5-1.
Randy Wells looks for his second win of the year, after being denied against New York on Tuesday.
Marlon Byrd - He's only hitting .338 on the season so far with 14 RBI.
Derrek Lee - He's only 3 for 24 in his last seven days. It might be a nice day to give Lee a day off.
The Cubs are starting to play better and hopefully are bout to run off like 7 in a row. Enjoy this great Sunday and go Cubs.
Ted Lilly (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Doug Davis (0-1, 11.25 ERA)
The Cubs are 7-10 after last night's win, which isn't good. The way the starters have thrown it should be much better, but we all know that. Today marks the return of Ted Roosevelt Lilly and the Carlos Zambrano bullpen tour begins, probably.
It was a curious choice to move Big Z to the pen, but the way the starters have thrown it makes a little sense. I figure it is a short term move that ends up with somebody getting traded from the rotation.
The Cubs actually looked good last night when they were pounding out clutch hits as they went to an 8-1 victory.
Tonight the Cubs face another lefty, so the lineup should look a little different. We will probably see Alfonso Soriano and Xavier Nady in the outfield with Aramis Ramirez and Jeff Baker making returns to the infield.
The Cubs beat Davis last week in the home opener with a similar lineup.
Marlon Byrd - This guy is raking at the plate. In his last seven games, Bryd has 13 hits and a .433 average. He's on fire.
Ryan Dempster - It's odd to see how Jim Hendry makes some deals, but the Dempster one has worked. Dempster has 26 K's in 27 2/3 innings.
Jeff Baker and Aramis Ramirez - these guys could hit a little bit more to say the least. I've never seen Ramirez struggle this much, and hopefully it will end tonight against Davis.
The Cubs could use a winning streak and it might as well get going in Milwaukee.
Instead of highlighting the box score, I wanna talk a little strategy.
Ryan Dempster pitched 7.2 innings last night, and I'm raising my eyebrow at the .2 part of that number. Demp had thrown 96 pitches over seven quality innings at that point, which I guess isn't really a whole lot. But after a few more Brewers came to the plate, all of a sudden we had two runners on and just one out, which motivated Lou to bring out Carlos Marmol for another four-out non-save.
Admittedly, the game wasn't close. Even if the runners Marmol inherited scored, the Cubs would have a comfortable lead. And with Braun and Fielder already on base, there weren't many real threats in the Milwaukee line-up left.
But for the sake of whining, I'm going to argue with Lou's approach on principle. This is what he did the last time Dempster started, and the team ended up losing -- and I attributed the loss to Marmol having to get four outs, and Marshall having to pitch the tenth inning instead of the eighth. Even last night, Marmol's ninth inning performance wasn't his sharpest ever.
In close games, I hope to see Cubs relievers getting a shot at their own innings, instead of having to clean up after starters left in too long by a crazy old guy manager.
Anyways, Cubs win. Super!
Three of the Cubs' seven victories in 2010 have come over the Brewers. But there's no need to feel bad about that; after all, Milwaukee is a divisional foe and you have to win games in your division in order to have a good season.
Ryan Dempster had his fourth strong start of the season (out of four), going 7.2 innings for the second straight start. He has left all of his starts with the lead, though he only has two wins to show for his efforts. (Hopefully Carlos Zambrano was able to get a good view of Dempster's efficient outing from his new perch in the bullpen. Speaking of Zambrano, Cubs fans saw a very unfamiliar sight when he warmed up in the bullpen in the eighth inning. No doubt it was a stimulating sight for some fans but a rather agitating one for others.)
The Cubs brought a balanced offensive attack to Miller Park--they've now scored at least six runs in all four of their games against the Brewers this season; they've only scored that many in two others games this year! Every starter had at least one hit, and Dempster joined the party with two sacrifice bunts. Chad Tracy was just barely able to make his first start of the season before Ted Lilly did, and he had a single and played very well defensively at third. Also, Tyler Colvin hit a ball 10,000 feet.
This is the second time the Cubs have roughed up Jeff Suppan in less than two weeks, and they'll have the chance to do the same to lefty Doug Davis tomorrow (he was touched up for six runs in just 3.1 innings in the Cubs home opener). Soriano, Soto and Ramirez should all be fresh after having a day off on Friday.
Perhaps the Cubs benefited from the favorable road crowd--a good friend of mine attended Friday's game and said it was at least a 50/50 split in terms of Cubs/Brewers fans in attendance, and he said it felt like 75/25 in Chicago's favor as the Cubs fans were able to cheer unabated given that the team scored early and dominated throughout. Hopefully Miller Park will be transformed into Wrigley North over the weekend as well.
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Ryan Dempster (1-0, 3.15 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (0-0, 7.20)
I knew this season probably wasn't a banner year, but I had hope that the Cubs might actually play some decent baseball for a few months.
Well, after a few weeks it sure looks like that is not going to happen. The Cubs have found a way to lose every series so far except against the Brewers.
The offense has hit, but it has failed to score runs and find a way to come through in the clutch.
On the other hand, the starters have looked great. There really isn't much to say right now that already hasn't been said, so we can see what can happen in the next week or so.
Teams playing the Cubs - The Mets were regarded as a team that was going to struggle this year. Well, soembody forgot to tell them this week as they took 3 of 4 from the Cubs.
Aramis Ramirez - He had a chance last night to make up for some early season struggles, but it didn't happen. I know one thing for sure: he probably will not opt out of his deal this time.
The Cubs and Brewers usually have fun a series. I just hope Ryan Braun doesn't make us look silly with six HR in the series (or tonight).
It was about a week ago when pundits and fans alike were sticking a shiny fork in the Houston Astros. Everybody agreed -- Houston was a terrible, miserable team, and, with only 1 win against 9 losses, they weren't reaching the playoffs in 2010.
The Chicago Cubs are presently 6-10, only a half game better than the 5-10 Astros. Does that mean, logically, that the Cubs are half a game away from being done for in 2010 as well?
They sure as hell are playing like it. The Cubs are scoring runs in trickles, they are giving them up in droves, and most concerning of all: they have put their most expensive, most unpredictable, most talented starter in the bullpen due to their dire need for a righty reliever.
Actually, that whole mess in the bullpen led me to recently speculate that maybe the Cubs should have gone with a six man rotation, instead. Here's the logic: starters would be getting an extra day of rest, meaning they'd be able to go longer in games. In a six man rotation, it wouldn't matter if Carlos Zambrano needed 130 pitches to get through 7 innings -- and, not having a Carlos Zambrano to bridge the gap between Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Zambrano's most trusted closer, Carlos Zambra--er, Marmol, would not have been so big a deal.
Think about it. A six man rotation. Just slightly less crazy than moving the Big Moose to the bullpen, but still crazy enough to reek of desperation. Anyway, on with the preview:
Friday, April 23rd, 7:10PM - Ryan Dempster (1-0, 3.15 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (0-0, 7.20 ERA)
Jeff Suppan is the gift that keeps on giving. He's not a particularly effective pitcher, which means the bumbling Cubs offense might stand a chance.
Ryan Dempster, meanwhile, has 22 strikeouts to 8 walks in 20 innings of work. He has been, shockingly, a pretty good-ass pitcher.
Saturday, April 24th, 6:10PM - Ted Lilly (0-0, -.-- ERA) vs. Doug Davis (0-1, 11.25 ERA)
Davis, used to be known as the Dragon Slayer due to his ability to out-duel better pitchers. These days, he might now be known as the Dragon Chaser due to the how likely he is to cause Brewer fans to consume massive amounts of drugs in order for them to get through watching one of his starts.
He'll be facing Ted Lilly, in Ted's 2010 debut. Enjoy these Lilly starts while they last -- if the Cubs are 12-20 in a few weeks, Roosevelt will be on the shopping block along with half of the other guys on the Cubs.
Sunday, April 25th, 1:10PM - Randy Wells (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (1-0, 2.41 ERA)
Wells and Bush have some early-season similarities. They've both made 3 starts, with Wells pitching 18.1 innings and Bush pitching 18.2. Wells has given up 22 hits, Bush has surrendered 14. Wells has walked 5, Bush has walked 6. Wells has struck out 13, Bush has KO'd 10.
But most similar of all -- both men have similar ERAs and offenses that have not supported their efforts.
As I write this, word in the ShoutBox is that Juan Cruz just got DFA'd by the Royals. While I shudder to think that the Cubs have fallen to the point where they need to take Kansas City's cast-offs, anything is better than Carlos Zambrano in the bullpen. Anything.
I forget the inning, and I forget who it was that said it, but at some point in the game one of our esteemed radio hosts pointed out that when these two teams meet, they often compete in a way that feels like they're scratching and clawing at each other.
I felt that was an apt description. Check the box score: one run top one, one run bottom one; one run top four, two runs bottom four; one run top six, one run bottom six; and so on and so forth. The game had the back-and-forth of a quality boxing match.
For the Cubs, Scratcher and Clawer Number One from today's game was Carlos Zambrano. He didn't have his best stuff, walking a batter in each of the first three innings, as well as giving up a double and a homer over the same stretch. And usually, walks plus extra base hits equals early exit.
But Z fought back, eventually throwing 123 pitches (!) over the course of five stressful innings. And when he finally reached the dugout, instead of assaulting the Gatorade, he drank it, presumably to ward off some cramps he may have been feeling (and who knows how early in the game they started).
(Indeed, Kurt has previously posed a question that goes something like: if I told you a Cub was continuing to pitch after having been stabbed in the shoulder with a knife, which Cub do you think that would be? Despite his occasional display of a lack of maturity, the young man is our toughest player.)
Opposing starter Jeff Suppan was also pulled after five innings, with the game tied at four, making this one a battle of the bullpens -- a battle that we would eventually lose, once Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow worked their magic on the scoreboard.
Let me throw a hypothetical situation out there for you: suppose our entire pitching staff, from top to bottom, from Peoria to Chicago, were healthy. Which twelve dudes would you want on the major league team?
There are several locks: Z, Demp, Lilly, and Wells in the rotation, and Marshall and Marmol in the 'pen. Beyond that, give me Tom Gorzelanny in the fifth spot, Carlos Silva in long relief (I don't see this guy throwing much more than 90 pitches in a game ever), Berg and Russell specializing against guys with the same handedness as they have, and Gray and Caridad doing their best to fend off Cashner from taking a spot on the roster.
Maybe that's an obvious discussion, but I hope you realize the consequences of it: Jim Hendry absolutely wasted $8 million on Aaron Mi -- I mean, John Grabow this offseason.
And a few thoughts on the offense today: kudos to Geovany Soto for getting on base three times, kudos to Tyler Colvin for coming up with two hits and scoring twice, and major kudos to Marlon Byrd for knocking the cover off the ball in the third inning. And how about Alfonso Soriano actually drawing a walk in one pinch hitting at-bat? Crazy, man.
Regardless, the series is won. Yippee skippe. Bring on the hapless Astros, who thankfully managed to win a game today. Lord knows a team like that can't possibly manage to win two in a row.
Carlos Zambrano (1-1, 11.88 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Raise your hand if you thought the Cubs were going win yesterday after the top of the 8th inning? .........Put your hand down Jeff Gray. I was riding home yesterday with the XM radio and turned the game off because I was sure the Cubs were falling to 3-5 on the season. I got home, talked to my wife and then finished grouting the downstairs bathroom. I heard my phone ring and then I get a text. Little did I know, LaTroy Hawkins was paying us back from all those blown saves. I was upset that I missed the game, but happy to be back at .500.
That brings us to the series finale. The Cubs are back in action today with a chance to move over .500 on the season. I never thought it possible before yesterday's comeback, but thigns are looking up.
Carlos Zambrano will once again throw on his 5th day, which is fine by me with the Brewers in town. I'm glad we're saving Silva and company for the winless Astros this weekend. Big Z was better his last tme out and hopefully will improve as the season goes on.
Carlos Marmol - It's not alwasy pretty, but Marmol is 3-for-3 in save chances so far.
Kosuke Fukudome - He still only has one walk, but is hitting .417 so far with 5 RBI. Whatever you're doing, keep it up.
Milwaukee Bullpen - First Trevor Hoffman blows two saves and now LaTroy Hawkins joins in on the fun. Who will be the hero today?
Aramis Ramirez - He's only 4-for-31 so far this season. If I know anything about anything, it's that the Cubs can't afford to have Aramis in prolonged slump.
I thought taking 2 of 3 would be the best the Cubs could do in this series, but they have a chance to sweep today. The Brewers have lost 8 of 11 in Chicago, so lets make it 9 of 12 today and get ready for Houston.
Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.
Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.
Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.
Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!
Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.
Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.
Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.
Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.
Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!