This was a game with a little bit of everything. Cubs starting pitcher Rich Harden had no-hit (but unfortunately, not no-walk) stuff. Jim Edmonds demonstrated that even if there's not a whole lot of gas left in the tank, it's still possible to go a while on fumes. Geovany Soto has already accomplished enough to win the Rookie of the Year Award - and today, he cemented the growing evidence that he's the best catcher in the game. Kerry Wood donned his leopard-print leotard and went back up on the wire again. And Derrek Lee thrilled us by taking it all home in the 12th.
First, Rich Harden. Considering the leeway that the home plate ump was giving Milwaukee pitchers, either Harden wasn't getting the same shake or he was really wild. Either way, Chicago Cubs Ace 2.0 Rich Harden only managed to go 5 innings. The Brewers couldn't hit the guy very well - they only got 1 - but he walked 6 of them while also striking out 7. Whatever the reason for his lack of control, he left with a 1 run lead (thanks for the solo homeruns, Jim Edmonds and Aramis Ramirez), but Cubs rookie reliever Jeff Samardzija got beaten like a drum in the 6th after Mark DeRosa made a fielding error. The Brewers notched 3 straight singles, Samardz walked 2 in the inning (3 if you count Prince, who they put on intentionally), and it looked as though the Cubs were not going to cut their magic number down on this day.
The Brewers tacked on an insurance run in the 9th off of Neal "The Luster's Off" Cotts, and it would have been 2 runs but Alfonso Soriano racked up his 10th assist of the season by gunning out J.J. Hardy. Insert link to timely "I love Alfonso Soriano" article here.
Then - then! - in the bottom of the 9th, with our hope extinguished like a candle's flame in the wind, with 2 outs in the fricking inning Jim Edmonds singled in Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa reached also via a single, and Geovany Soto hit what we will refer to as an Epic Home Run.
Now, me, at this point, I'm not watching the game. It's not that I had given up per se, it's just that it was dinner time, I was hungry, and so there was no game for me. When, after dinner, I scampered to a TV and saw what was happening, I immediately got back into the game only to find ...
Kerry Wood, still doing his best Rod Beck, pitched 2 innings tonight. The first inning was one of sheer dominance. He faced 3 batters, he struck them all out, and deciding to let it ride, Lou sent him back out to pitch the 12th. Woody proceeded to surrender a leadoff single, then a double, and only then did he buckle down and get 3 outs.
Look, I'm a huge Kerry Wood fan. I also happen to be a fan of quiet 9th innings. Maybe I jumped the gun a little in the shoutbox, when I essentially said "NO MORE WOOD!" However, I am concerned, because a blown save 2 weeks from now could be season destroying. Now, I'm not sure if it's simply been a long season and Wood is tired, or if perhaps he's seen a little too much inactivity as of late, but Lou needs to get a regimen going in which Kerry is pitching one inning every two days from here until October, no matter the situation. Keep him fresh, keep him rested, and keep him loose. If I see Wood throwing 2 innings again, or back-to-back games again, I'm going to find Lou and I will confiscate his sammich.
Anyway, Woody got out of it, amazingly, and in the bottom of the 12th the Cubs worked some more of that 2 out magic. Darryl Ward drew a leadoff walk, Jason Marquis pinch ran, Reed Johnson bunted him to second, the Fonz was put on intentionally, and, after Ryan Theriot got the second out of the inning, Derrek Lee stepped up.
At this point, I was watching the game intently. I called C. into the room, as she's a huge D.Lee fan, mostly because I knew what was about to happen. When he singled in the winning run and was mobbed by his overjoyed teammates, I was the least surprised person you could've met. The Cubs win, the magic number is reduced, it's time to finish this thing already.
Series Recap: It coulda been a sweep. I'm not complaining, not one bit, but after the Cubs #3 pitcher beat the Brewers ace, and after the Brewers second ace left a game early yesterday, it became this team's series to lose. Thankfully, they didn't.
The Cubs next host the Cardinals. It will be the final series of the season at Wrigley Field. St. Louis is playing the Reds tonight in order to get out of a 7 game losing streak, and whether they win or extend their losing streak, they will be coming to Chicago tomorrow a broken team.
This has been a very fulfilling season. There have certainly been nervous moments, but they have been outweighed by the thrills. I'm looking forward to a clinching victory as early as tomorrow. It will happen soon, folks. Very soon.
Current Record: 92-59
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 9 games in front of Milwaukee and 12 ahead of Houston
Best Possible Record: 103-59
Worst Possible Record: 92-70
On Pace For: 99-63
Magic Number: 2, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
It was a perfect opportunity for the Cubs to bring their magic number to 2. Ben Sheets, Brewers Ace 2.0 leaves the game - and possibly ends his season - in the 2nd inning. This leaves the Cubs in the "competent" hands of a mediocre Brewers bullpen - 7 different Milwaukee relievers were used last night, and last I checked, they only have 2 or 3 good relievers on their team.
In other words, the Cubs should have demolished them, right? Wrong. Jason Marquis was on the hill.
For you new readers, Jason Marquis has a number of nicknames on this blog. Mostly we just call him the Marquis de Suck, but another appropriate - if not less funny - nickname might be Hendry's Folly. Although the Cubs already look built to compete again next season, Jim will have a few moves to make before '09 rolls around. For example, will he roll the dice and bring back Dempster? And if he brings back Dempster, will Samardzija get a shot at starting? And if the Notre Dame phenom is going to get his shot, then who does he replace in the rotation? The answer, obviously, is Jason Marquis, the weakest link.
Last night, Hendry's Folly* made it easy for the Brewers by allowing a 3-run first inning. Admittedly, he buckled down after that and pitched into the 6th without allowing another run, but the damage was already done. Marquis exited in the 6th, and In the 7th, his white flag replacement Angel Guzman saw fit to pitch in-game batting practice to Milwaukee.
(*still a year remaining on that albatross of a contract, hurray)
Even had the Cubs offense taken advantage of the early departure of Ben Sheets, it may have been a little much asking for them to overcome the 6 runs scored by the Brewers. However, the only real offensive production they had last night came from an Aramis Ramirez solo shot in the 2nd, and a Ryan Theriot ground-out RBI in the 9th. The Cubs offense only managed 6 hits and 3 walks, but they will face a depleted Brewers pitching staff tonight, led by Dave Bush. Bush is 9-10 with a 4.24 ERA, and he is currently 0-2 with an 8.23 ERA against the Cubs this year.
I'm sure we will all look forward to the Cubs finishing this thing sooner rather than later. The offense needs to come alive tonight, and with Bush pitching and the Milwaukee pen worn out, it could get real ugly real fast.
Tonight was the death blow. If the Cubs win tomorrow, it's the cheap shot.
It actually wasn't easy. In fact, it was rather dramatic. Sure, the Cubs started off by doing what they do best - pummeling an otherwise unbeatable CC Sabathia - but then they finished the game off by doing that other thing they do best - getting past by the skin of their flippin' teeth.
First and foremost, the lineup did what it was supposed to do. Hitters 1-4 were responsible for 8 of the team's 11 hits. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, they all drove in runs. In fact, at one point the Cubs were up on the "Unbeatable" C.C. Sabathia by a score of 3-0, right up until Prince Fielder decided to lunch... er, launch a two-run homer into the bleachers.
But then, when all hope was lost, Alfonso Soriano stepped up and hit his own dinger, giving the Cubs a comfortable 2-run lead. Which was promptly ... well, squashed by Prince Fielder, who, uh, sat on a Carlos Marmol heater and knocked it into the bleachers. And yet, again, dissatisfied with a mere 1-run lead, Hank White made a pinch hit appearance in the bottom of the 8th and gave the Cubs a huge insurance run.
Naturally, the 9th inning was as dramatic as you'd expect it to be. Kerry Wood continues to scare the crap out of skittish Cub fans everywhere. After striking out the leadoff hitter, Wood surrendered a single to pinch hitter Mike Lamb, before getting out number 2, only for Ray Durham - of all jabrones! - to hit a run-scoring double. Wood then gave up an infield single to Ryan Braun before turning things back over to the 3-4, 2 homer, 3 RBI Prince Fielder.
As Wood reached back and heaved pitch after pitch, eventually reaching a ... well, full count on the fat man, I could only imagine Cub fans everywhere yelling the following:
I was on IM with Jason at the time, saying "huh, full count? Wood should toss him a sick breaking pitch because, worst case scenario, he walks him and faces a less-dangerous hitter." Wood then tossed a sick breaking pitch and struck Fielder out to end the game. Yep. Sometimes I'm very good at pretending that I know what I'm talking about.
Real credit has to go to Ryan Dempster. Clownsevelt has been putting in a year-long effort to prove that he's ace material. On this Cubs team, he remains the 3rd option for any playoff series, but tonight he proved to me that he could out-duel anybody else's #1 guy.
The magic number is now down to 4. The Cubs are on a 5 game winning streak. The Brewers are down for the count. There's two weeks left of baseball before it gets really exciting. This is what we've been waiting for, folks. I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying it.
According to ESPN and MLB and Pat Hughes, Ned Yost has been fired. You know you're an amazingly crappy manager when you get fired with your team tied for a playoff spot. Still, I'll miss Yost and his amazing stretch-run fades. The Cubs tried to give the Brewers the division, but they politely refused and it cost Yost a job.
Dale Sveum takes over. Sveum is considered on of the worst third base coaches in history, so...good move?
Rumor has it that Ned Yost has been let go by the Brewers. This is heartbreaking, because Yost in the dugout was a decisive advantage for the Cubs.
We'll post a link to the story once it's been verified by the mass media.
A few hours ago I stumbled across the Cardinals-Brewers game. To my dismay, in the 8th inning Milwaukee held a 3-1 lead against the Cardinals, but I noticed two things: 1. Milwaukee had turned to their bullpen and 2. the heart of the Cardinals lineup was due up.
Suffice to say, the Cardinals won tonight's game 5-3. That is ultimately Milwaukee's fatal flaw. C.C. Sabathia can't pitch 9 innings every time out, and even then he's saving the Brewers from their bullpen no more than every 5th day. And while Milwaukee has a stellar offense and a scary rotation (at least, for a short series), their bullpen is mediocre at best. They have a couple of stellar middle relievers, but in any game which requires the use of 3, they will be in trouble.
The Cubs enter the series tomorrow against the Phillies with the second biggest divisional lead in baseball. They are up 6 games on the Brewers - who have the second best record in the NL - and 9.5 games on the Cardinals. A strong showing against the Phillies is important, as Milwaukee faces the Pirates. But wouldn't it just be awesome if the Pirates surprised the Brewers while the Cubs dominate Philadelphia?
Unlikely, yes. Possible ... well, anything is.
There has been some worrying as of late because those pesky Brewers have refused to go away. Well, sure, they're playing great baseball right now, but so are the Cubs. Here's a little comparrison between the two:
On July 12th, the Cubs were 57-37. The Brewers were 6 games out in the loss column at 51-43. Since that time, Milwaukee has had an 8 game winning streak, they are presently riding a 7 game winning streak, and with a few road bumps excepted, they've been one of the best teams in baseball.
And yet, they are still 3 games out of 1st. Maybe we should be nervous that they are closing the gap, but as Andy Dolan noted at Desipio, they haven't exactly had the toughest schedule during their recent run. Since July 1st, they've accomplished their great surge by beating on teams like Pittsburgh, Colorado, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati again, Washington, and now San Diego.
Hey, the American Legion softball team could probably go .500 against those teams. It's not shocking that the Brewers are beating the teams they should be beating. But how are they doing against good teams?
Including their series against Arizona, since their recent run, Milwaukee is 6-6 against teams that are competing for the playoffs right now, including the Cardinals, D-Backs, and Cubs. They aren't exactly world breakers.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have played 17 games against teams of similar stature in the same time frame, and they are 11-6 against those teams. They include the Cardinals, D-Backs, Cardinals again, Marlins, and Brewers.
In other words, I feel good about the Cubs. They've lost ground, but they've done better against good teams. They will, in all likelihood, continue to play well, and I'll be very surprised if Chicago's not the first place squad in the NL Central, and the Brewers are not the Wild Card team.
Without mercy, without any indication of it being a struggle, in fact, with poise and determination, the Cubs all-out slaughtered the Brewers today. I think that pretty well sums up any kind of necessary game recap, but let's look a little closer.
Apparently, Jim Edmonds has been reading the news, and he must have learned that Jim Hendry was shopping around for another outfielder, because he responded with 2 hits in 3 at bats - both homeruns, one a grand slam. Edmonds now has 12 homeruns with the Cubs and remains an amazingly valuable offensive asset.
Perhaps one of the most compelling statistics from today's game was this: after 6 innings, the Cubs had scored 5 runs, all while the 1-4 batters in the lineup had started the game 0 for 10. On top of the 2 homers by Edmonds, Soriano hit another homerun, as did Fukudome, who went 2 for 4. Kosuke, who'd been in the throws of a terrible slump - he batted .224 in the month of July - received 14 of his 21 hits this past month after the All Star Break. He's batting .298 since the break and, hopefully, he's back on track.
However, while the Cubs offense continued to reduce Brewer fans to tears, the story of the night was Rich Harden. Since coming to the Cubs, Harden had been a tough-luck starter. However, he managed his first win of the season for Chicago by throwing 7 strong innings, while allowing 6 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 9. The one run against him was a homer, and Harden how has an ERA of 1.11 with the Cubs.
I briefly discussed his incredible pitching with Jon Miller earlier, and I said that he may have supplanted Carlos as the team's ace. Jon then asked me who I'd want starting in Game One of a short series, and without hesitation I said "Carlos Zambrano!" Feel free to disagree with me, but I suspect that few of you will.
4 games, 4 wins, 31 runs scored against 11 allowed, 49 total hits, 17 walks, and if you listen carefully you can hear the sound of hearts breaking all throughout the land of cheese and beer. The Cubs entered the series having gone 3-6 since the break, and having seen their lead dwindle to 1 game. Now, they are 5 games up on either 2nd place team, and they have finished the month of July by going 15-11 in 26 games. So much for a July swoon.
It's already becoming a philosophical debate here and elsewhere. Aren't these just your typical Cubs? They're good enough to tantelize you; hell, they should even be good enough to play in October. And yet, some people are able to find a fundamental flaw with them - that flaw being, apparently, their inability to win every game (or at least every series) with comfortable dominance.
Here's the thing - no team can do that, but this team has shown that they can do a lot of other things right. For example:
- While not defensively flashy, they remain defensively sound. This is something that we are still not used to, having endured The Dusty Years.
- On any given day, their 5-8 hitters can light up a team. I can't emphasize how rare and amazing that is.
- Top to bottom, even including Marquis, the Cubs have to have one of the best rotations in baseball. Seriously. Only Oakland has a better team ERA for its starters, and do you know why that is? Because they had Rich effin' Harden for the first half of the season!!! The best team in the AL, the Angels, comes closest in having top-to-bottom quality starters, but the Cubs win pound-for-pound.
- Oh, and did we mention the bullpen? Even with the struggles of Marmol, even without the presence of Wood, the Cubs have a team ERA of 3.99. Not the best in the league right now, but I don't think we can complain much by the works of Wood, Marmol, Gaudin, and when they're back and healthy, Wuertz and Lieber. Not to mention the sensation that is Samardzija.
All of this is my way of simply saying that the Cubs are stacked. After having beaten the Brewers at home, I for one am strongly looking forward to the coming month. They have the capability of being 10 ahead of the 2nd place team come September 1st.
And, if that happens - or even comes close to happening - it'll be pretty hard not to believe that these guys are the real deal, and our best chance of ending the World Series drought in any of our life times. Go Cubs.
Current Record: 65-44
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 118-44
Worst Possible Record: 65-97 - the Cubs are now 1 win away from equalling their total number of wins in Baker's last season
On Pace For: 97-65
Magic Number: 49
I have every other Friday off, and there I was, minding my own, when my dad and brother show up out of the clear blue and ask me to a Brewers game. Why, might you ask, would they do that when we live far closer to Wrigley than Miller Park? Because those two knuckle-draggin' inbreds HATE the Cubs, and before the night was over, I met hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS of others who feel the same.
In ten words or less, it's a nice park/food court/tavern, and quite clean. In fact, nearly 10,000 Brewer fans had been tailgating since I dunno, noon or 3 or something, and when we strolled to the gate about 6, the parking lot was smokin', as in grillin'. Funny thing is, though, as we were leaving, you wouldn't have known a single soul ever was out there. Wisconsin people clean up after themselves!! WOW! What a concept! Let's start doing that, ourselves, when we go to Wrigley? Kay?
Anyway, a brief story of the game, by numbers -
8 - inches, as in the number of inches Ryan Braun's first inning homer cleared the left field fence by.
1 - hit, as in the number of hits the vaunted Brewers offense managed against the Great Josh Fogg in the first five innings, that one being the Braun homer.
147 - mopes wearing t-shirts that said 'Cubs Suck'. The rivalry, as one sided as it is, is certainly brewing (ha!) north of the Cheeze-n-Sausage Line. They have something going on every half-inning, like they do in the minors, way more than just the Sausage Race (which was a complete blowout by Hot Dog, btw). There's always some contest or something where they stick a microphone in the face of some random Brewers fan. Nearly every time, once their 15 seconds of fame was up, the random fan took the opportunity to shout "Cubs Suck". Good times.
(Note to Brewers management - last night was a sellout, the 14th you've had this year. You've done a fine job of putting a product on the field. You can stop all the bush league nonsense between innings. You don't need that anymore. Keep the Sausages, tho.)
4 - number of times I yelled "Gooo Cubs Gooooo!", every time the Reds rallied for runs.
21 - times I questioned myself for being an idiot for rooting for a team Dusty Baker was mis-managing.
1 - fabulous managerial move by Baker, as he was able to send Adam Dunn in to pinch-hit with a tie score and the bases loaded in the seventh with one out. For once in the past five years, I looked upon him in admiration. So what happened? The strongest man on the field ran the count full before literally squibbing a 2-foot 'clout' that Jason Kendall was able to pick up and step on home for the force, seemingly quashing the Reds' rally.
So then what happened? With Hairston the Lesser at the plate, the next Scott Riske pitch was Riske indeed, bouncing off of Kendall's shin and all the way into the Brewers dugout, as the deciding run crossed the plate.
Anyhoo, it was a quite decent night of baseball watching and amateur scouting. There is something quite wrong with the Fresh Prince, he is no longer the intimidating force. Of course, now Braun is. Hart and Hardy are as good as you know they are. I actually saw Bill Hall get a hit off of someone else besides the Cubs.
But the biggest thing I walked away with is that in the hierarchy of Groups of People Who Hate the Cubs, I have to rank them as of today in this order:
1. White Sox "fans"
2. Brewer fans
3. Sam Zell (sell the damn team, already!)
4. Cardinal fans
5. my dad and brother
The rest of the ride this year should be interesting.
As somebody going crazy for Cubs content these days, I was given an inspiring idea that I had to look into. You see, Brewers fans are ecstatic because C.C. Sabathia is a talented arm who will fortify their eventually - and now almost certain - playoff run.
Sabathia, however, wasn't always good in '08. In fact, his first 4 starts were ridiculously bad. Point of fact, the Cubs have a lefty starter who's followed a similar path. Theodore Roosevelt Lilly is another guy who started out horribly and picked up the slack later. So, because I'm a curious bugger with time on my hands, I've basically drawn up a comparison chart for your consumption as to how they've done their previous 15 games:
While Sabathia is the clear winner, Lilly has been a tremendous pitcher for the Cubs. None of Ted's numbers are bad, and, considering that we're comparing the Brewers #2 pitcher to the Cubs #4 guy, it gives you a little bit of perspective on how deep our rotation is now.
All told, the Cubs are rolling with the following four pitchers in a short series, and here's how they look:
Carlos Zambrano: 17GS, 112.1IP, 37ER, 9-3, 73K, 38BB, 2.96ERA
Dick Harden: 13GS, 77IP, 20ER, 5-1 92K, 31BB, 2.34ERA
Ryan Dempster: 19GS, 118IP, 41ER, 10-3, 98K, 47BB, 3.13ERA
Ted Lilly: 19GS, 112.2IP, 56ER, 9-5, 105K, 39BB, 4.47ERA (who, as we know, has done far better in his last 15)
Total IP: 420
Total SO: 368
Total BB: 155
Total W-L: 33-12
Total ER: 154
Comparatively, the other competitive teams in the NL look like the following:
Ben Sheets: 17GS, 117IP, 36ER, 10-2, 97K, 26BB, 2.77ERA
CC Sabathia: 19GS, 128.1IP, 54ER, 7-8, 128K, 39BB, 3.79ERA
Manny Parra: 17GS, 93.2IP, 38ER, 8-2, 72K, 49BB, 3.65ERA
Jeff Suppan: 18GS, 101.1IP, 53ER, 5-6, 55K, 44BB, 4.71ERA
Total IP: 440.1
Total SO: 352
Total BB: 158
Total W-L: 30-18
Total ER: 181
Cole Hamels: 19GS, 135.2IP, 48ER, 9-6, 118K, 33BB, 3.18ERA
Jamie Moyer: 18GS, 107IP, 49ER, 7-6, 66K, 31BB, 4.12ERA
Kyle Kendrick: 18GS, 98.2IP, 48ER, 8-3, 43K, 32BB, 4.39ERA
Adam Eaton: 18GS, 100.1IP, 58ER, 3-7, 52K, 40BB, 5.20ERA
Total IP: 441.2
Total SO: 279
Total BB: 136
Total W-L: 27-22
Total ER: 203
Brandon Webb: 19GS, 124IP, 45ER, 13-4, 106K, 33BB, 3.27ERA
Dan Haren: 18GS, 117.2IP, 37ER, 8-5, 103K, 20BB, 2.83ERA
Doug Davis: 11GS, 65IP, 27ER, 3-4, 92K, 27BB, 3.74ERA
Micah Owings: 16GS, 92.2IP, 53ER, 6-7, 80K, 29BB, 5.15
Total IP: 399.1
Total SO: 381
Total BB: 109
Total W-L: 30-20
Total ER: 162
I'd include St. Louis, but let's be fair - even if they acquire Burnett, which they may do, they are sad participants. They might as well kiss their place in the NL Central goodbye as they spiral down into mediocrity.
Regardless, the Cubs look good compared with these other guys. Nobody has as much depth, and even if Zambrano gets out-dueled, at this stage we have to feel confident that Harden or Dempster - or even Lilly - can outpitch the other guys these teams are putting out there.
It's still early - it'll be early until somebody clinches - but things are looking good for the Cubs.
Editor's Note: this post was compiled over about 3 hours, so if it is at all disjointed, that may be why