Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Astros

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Game Recap - Astros 11, Cubs 6

Game Recap
I'm just not sure about that Aramis Ramirez.  He probably can't help the Cubs if he's not 100% healthy.  The same could also probably be said about Ryan Dempster, who failed to pitch effectively last night, surrendering 6 runs in 5 innings of work.

Still, these Cubs are a scrappy bunch -- after falling behind 6 to 0, the team managed to battle back and score 3 runs in the 5th and 3 more in the 6th, thanks to the plentiful offensive efforts of the 1-5 hitters in the lineup, especially Aramis "3-Run-Bomb" Ramirez.  But that was when the Cubs turned to their bullpen and SHIZ EXPLODED!! 

Before last night, the pen had been on a streak of consistency and efficiency.  Then, Angel Guzman stepped in and coughed up the lead on a homer to Goeff Blum, before Jeff Stevens and Aaron Heilman allowed the Astros to put it out of reach in the 8th.  Perhaps they should develop a (BL) statistic, short for "blame," of which Heilman would surely lead the league as he allowed 2 inherited runs to score, adding a third run credited to him as the proverbial cherry on top. 

Speaking of Cub relievers and inherited runners, here are some stats I pulled from Baseball Reference (as inspired by ChuckD of Desipio fame mentioning it in a thread over there)...

IR=Inherited Runners, IS=Inherited Runners Scored, IS%=Inherited Runners Scored Percentage

Jose Ascanio -    IR 2, IS 2, IS% 100%
Jeff Samardzija -  IR 8, IS 5, IS% 63%
Aaron Heilman -   IR 30, IS 14, IS% 47%
Dave Patton -    IR 8, IS 3, IS% 38%
League Average - 32%
Carlos Marmol -   IR 18, IS 4, IS% 22%
Kevin Gregg -   IR 16, IS 3, IS% 19%
Angel Guzman -  IR 16, IS 2, IS% 13%
Sean Marshall -   IR 30, IS 3, IS% 10%

It's interesting just how poor Heilman and Samardzija have done compared to the league average.  It's even more interesting how the Cubs bullpen has been considered erratic-at-best this year and yet four of the team's relievers fall below the league average.  Perhaps it would be fair to suggest that the bulk of the team's late-inning problems rest squarely on the shoulders of Heilman at this point?  Also: maybe Lou should entertain never using him in situations with runners on ever again?  Just a thought.

So, the streak is over, the Cubs are back in second place, and on a night in which they were outhit by 12, they were also outscored by 6.  What, did you expect them to win every game?

Gamecast: July 28th vs. Astros

GameCastRoy Oswalt (6-4, 3.66 ERA) vs. Ryan Demspter (5-5, 4.09 ERA)

Story Lines
The Cubs have won five in a row, and now they get Ryan Dempster off the DL.

Dempster, who hopefully won't be jumping over any more fences, has missed a few starts, but the Cubs haven't missed a beat. Actually, the Cubs have played their best baseball of the season.

The Cubs are not suspecting much out of Dempster tonight since he did not go on any rehab assignment. They plan on limiting his pitch count tonight to around 85. This would normally be fine, but the Cubs had to play 13 innings last night. The good part was that Angel Guzman and Kevin Gregg didn't pitch last night, and Sean Marshall only threw 1/3 of an inning.

Tonight's game is the toughest match up of the three remaining, but a win here and the Cubs will have a great chance of taking two of three.

The trade deadline keeps getting closer, and the rumors keep flying around baseball. It looks like more and more that the Cubs will add something. Maybe a lefty? Will anybody else in the Central make a move? The Brewers are four games back, and the Astros are now three back.

Who's Hot
Derrek Lee - Lee took a day off and comes back and hits another home run. He's got 20 now, which matches last year's total. He could end up with 30 before it is all said and done. Does anybody still think he shouldn't be playing first?

Aramis Ramirez - Ramirez picked up three more hits last night, and scored on Sori's grand slam.

Who's Not
Reed Johnson and Ryan Theriot - The top two guys in the order went a combined 0-for-12 last night.

Mike Fontenot - Uggh. I have a feeling Mike's time starting is coming to a close, and he didn't even start last night. He did go 0-for-2, and is 1-for-20 in his last five games.

Conclusions
The Cubs battled last night and got the win, but a win tonight would be even better. It would put the Cubs eight games over .500 for the first time all season.

Game Recap: Cubs 5, Astros 1 -- A Grand Way To Stay On Top

Game Recap
(with contributions from Kurt)
Makes sense, I guess.

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."

Check.

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.

Gamecast: July 27th vs. Astros

GameCastWandy Rodriguez (10-6, 2.72 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (7-4, 3.48 ERA)

Story Lines

The Cubs are in first place. That is the biggest and best story line of the season. After months of losing and not hitting, the 2009 Cubs have found a way to get to the top of the heap in the NL Central. To stay up on top, the Cubs must continue to hit and pitch well.

Most of the newspapers focused on how the Cubs are not taking first for granted. Also, there's Rosenbum with his take on Milton Bradley. Leave it to him to take all the joy of getting to first place.

There are still few rumors when it comes to the Cubs and the trade deadline. There is talk of a lefty in the pen. There is also talk the Cubs and Pirates are talking.

The Cubs will probably make a move, but I highly doubt the Cub faithful will be jumping up and down about the deal.

Needless to say, the Cubs are playing well heading into the series with the Astros, but this is still a big test. The Cubs have beat up on bad teams since the break, but now it is time to show that they can beat teams that are playing well.

Who's Hot
Kevin Gregg - Our closer gave up 11 earned runs in the months of April and May. Since then, he's given up 7 earned runs in 26 innings, and picked up 15 saves. There is a direct connection between the Cubs moving up the standings and the bullpen getting better, and Gregg's been pretty good of late.

Milton Bradley - I'm going to give Milton a little good news for once. He's 2-for-3 in his last two games with a HR and three runs scored and two walks. Overall, his OBP is up to .382, which is only behind Aramis Ramirez on the team (Plus we know Aramis missed two months).

Alfonso Soriano - Two more hits and his average is up to .253. His OPS (.760) is climbing as well, which is what we pay him for.

Who's Not
Derrek Lee's neck - This is probably going to be an issue all season, but at least Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir are on the team, instead of Phil Nevin.

Mike Fontenot - Just when we thought he was breaking out of the slump, Fontenot goes 1-for-18 in his last five games. If the Cubs do make a move, I bet it's to bring in a 2B.

Conclusions
This a tough match up for the Cubs. Wandy Rodriguez has given the team fits this season, but if the offense can put together a few runs it should be a Cub win tonight.

Series Preview: Cubs vs. Astros

Series Preview
Match-up
Overview

While I enjoyed watching the Cubs crush the hopes and dreams of children from Cincinnati this weekend, there’s no time to celebrate with the AssTrolls coming to town. Just like the Cubs practically ended the 2009 season for the Reds, they could do the same to Houston when this four game series is over. To make matters even better, the Cardinals start a four game set at home against the Dodgers. I enjoy this very much.

That being said, the Cubs could be sitting pretty by the end of the week.

Of course I’m getting a bit far ahead of myself and too optimistic/cocky for Karma’s liking, so I’m just going to stop thinking about the potential awesomeness that lies ahead and prepare for the worst.

The Astros come into Chicago after winning only one game against the Mets in Houston. It takes a special kind of suck to let the Mets score 8+ runs in two games. Hopefully they will bring more of that to Wrigley.

The Matchups
Monday, July 27th –  Wandy Rodriguez vs. Carlos Zambrano
Ah yes, the Wand-Rod. How I loath thee. I don’t know what it is about this guy, but he seems to always tear up the Cubs. He’s faced the Cubs twice already this season and has made them look like fools. He threw 6 innings and only gave up 4 hits and 1 earned run on April 7. Then on June 10 he pitched 7 innings giving up 1 earned run on five hits. Both of those games were played in Houston however. Welcome to the Thunderdome Wandy.

Big Z gave up 5 runs on 10 hits to the Phillies in his last outing, but he got the win so all was forgiven. Like Rodriguez, Zambrano has pitched against his opponent twice already this season. He’s pitched well in those games too.

Something’s got to give. Two men enter, one man leaves.

Tuesday, July 28th – Roy Oswalt vs. Ryan Demster
Dirty Demp returns from the DL, but who knows how he is going to pitch. His ERA is virtually the same at home (4.12) as it is on the road (4.00), yet Dempster is 4-1 at Wrigley compared to 1-4 everywhere else. Everything I’ve been reading says Dempster has been keeping his arm in shape, so maybe this will be less of a bloodbath than I’m anticipating. Control could be an issue.

Dempster’s job doesn’t get any easier having to go up against Roy Oswalt. Although he didn’t start off particularly strong this season, Oswalt has been pitching better as of late. The main issue for Oswalt seems to be his control. He already has 33 walks this season and is on pace to go well over his average of 51.
Wednesday, July 29th – Mike Hampton vs. Randy Wells
I look at Mike Hampton and I see a gas can covered in gun power inside a fireworks shop surrounded by a moat of nitroglycerin. Although he’s only given up nine homeruns this season, Hampton is one of the guys that makes me feel like I can actually enjoy watching the Cubs offense. He’s give up at least 7 hits in his last three starts.

Randy Wells continues to pitch decently enough where I might consider buying his jersey…or at least a jersey shirt. A lot of people have been talking about how the Cubs are missing Jason Marquis, but Wells is a more than suitable replacement as the “fifth” starter. Marquis might be hot now, but you got to love Wells’ potential. He’s 6-0 when the Cubs score at least four runs.

Thursday, July 30th – Russ Ortiz vs. Kevin Hart
With Lilly on the DL, Hart gets to stick around a little bit longer. I’ve been impressed so far, but other teams are unfamiliar with him, which has probably helped a little bit. He was finally able to cut down on the walks in his last start against the Reds. That can only lead to good things. Nothing makes me want to punch something defenseless in the face more than walks.

Russ Ortiz is a silly looking man. I’m not sure if it’s his cliffhanger-like nose or his oddly shaped body, but I can’t help but laugh when I see him. He actually pitches better against lefties than righties (Ortiz is right-handed), so it’s a good thing the big bats on the Cubs all hit from the right.

Conclusion
The Cubs are in a great position to move up in the standings and put some distance between themselves and the Astros/Cardinals (Not the Brewers though, because they get four games against the Natties). My hatred for Houston has been well documented on this site, so anything less than a sweep will be disappointing. However the realist inside of me says the Cubs will most likely go 2-2 or 3-1. The only game I expect the Cubs to lose is when Oswalt takes the mound.

Still, lots of reasons to be optimistic going into this series. Just don’t get too comfortable. Karma can be a biatch.

Go Cubs.

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Game & Series Recap: Cubs 1, Astros 2 (1 games to 2) - Fulchinoed!

The Astros were held to five runs in this series, and they somehow managed to steal two games. Damn you, Geoff Blum!

There are plenty of positives to take from this series. For one, the starting pitching continues to be outstanding. If I understand how to use these interwebs things correctly, then I'm right in saying that the Cubs now lead the major leagues in ERA from starting pitchers. For those of us that have been watching all year, that's really not all that hard to believe. The starting pitching has been by far the strongest suit of the 2009 Cubs.

No, it's not the starting pitching that's keeping the Cubs down. Lately, and particularly in these past three games, it wasn't even the bullpen that kept the Cubs out of the Winner's Circle. Another positive--we got a lot of good innings from our relievers.

The problem is these Cubs can't figure out how to freakin' score.

Fortunately for Lou, I've got some really excellent ideas on how to help the Cubs get it in gear and consistently score some runs! (How generous am I?!)

For one, based on preliminary results from the poll, it looks like most people agree that Alfonso Soriano should not be hitting lead-off for the Cubs right now. His average in June is below .200, he is swinging at bad pitches, he's not drawing walks--and yet he continues to get the most plate apperances of any Cub hitter every single game. This is ludicrous, right?

Second, I cannot understand how this team is better off with Aaron Miles, Bobby Scales AND Andres Blanco over Jake Fox. Frankly, I think Scales is every bit the ball player that Miles is, and that Hendry wasted $4 million in adding Miles to the team. Having said that, carrying both is a mistake (I prefer Blanco over the other two because, aside from today's error, he's flashed a pretty good glove over at short). And what happens when Ryan Freel gets healthy? Gah!

My last idea is probably my best one. Let's FORCE Aramis Ramirez to get healthy really quickly. That way, he can crush our opponents' hopes tomorrow, instead of a month from now. Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?

If we continue to get such excellent starting pitching throughout the season, the wins will come. But until the offense comes around, it'll be more of this crap every couple weeks.

Go Cubs.

Current Record: 29-27
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 135-27
Worst Possible Record: 29-133
Record needed to win 110: 81-25
On Pace For: 83-79

LIVE BLOG TODAY

We've reached the limit in the shoutbox this hour, so please keep commenting under this post.

Please join in for today's live blog as the Cubs face the Astros in their rubber game of the series. AJ and I will be giving some insight from the game by each half inning.

Pregame:

It looks like Milton Bradley is not in the starting lineup today as the roof is closed. Here is the Cubs lineup:

1. Alfonso Soriano - LF
2. Ryan Theriot - SS
3. Kosuke Fukudome - CF
4. Derrek Lee - 1B
5. Micah Hoffpauir - RF
6. Mike Fontenot - 3B
7. Koyie Hill - C
8. Andres Blanco - 2B
9. Ryan Dempster - P

Top 1st:

Well, this is odd. Russ Ortiz is pitching from the stretch to start. I have a feeling he's not going too deep into this game. Let me pose this question to Lou and everybody. Can we please give Soriano a day off? I mean this is getting a little crazy after he grounds to third to start the game. Just an FYI, the Cards are down 5-3, and the Brewers are also playing an afternoon game today. Nothing doing early on. 0-0 after the top half.

Bottom 1st:

Not the greatest of starts for Dempster after a lead off 2B for Michael Bourne. If you've haven't been on the web today, you might not know that the Cardinals are looking at Miguel Tejada, who beats out an infield single to put runners on first and third. Dempster could really use a double play or a strikeout. Big K for the first out, now it's time for a double play to end the inning. It doesn't look like Dempster has great command today. Hopefully, he can improve as the day goes on. A sac-fly by Carlos Lee gives the Astros a lead, but he gets Berkman K's. It could be worse.

Astors 1, Cubs 0

Top 2nd:

Alright, Fonty gets Lee to third with one out! Can Three-Finger Hill lift one to score Derrek?

Aaaaand he can't. Double play ball. Damn. Astros hold a slim lead, 1-0.

Bottom 2nd:

A 1-2-3 from Demp in the bottom half. Nice. Is it just me, or has most of Dempster's trouble come in the 1st inning this year?

I'll be surprised if we score in the 3rd.

Top 3rd:

Having said that, if Blanco does get on, Demp could definitely move him over. But we all know how Sori's been hitting with men on base.

Hey, Demp's on! But like I said, Sori sucks with men on base. Courtesy of Yahoo!:

Soriano, Bases empty: .267/.316/.509
Soriano, Runner(s) on: .164/.278/.403

And just like that, Soriano hits into a double play. I would say the reason the Cubs haven't taken off so far this month is because Soriano has been single-handedly keeping the offense down. He's been BAD. And I mean, REALLY BAD.

Bottom 3rd:

Ortiz singles, setting up the perfect opportunity for a double play ball from Tejada, now that Bourn's out.

In the meantime, I've created a new poll. I think you'll like it.

And we're out of the inning! Let's see what the offense would be like if Theriot led off.

Top 4th:

After a personal Rain Delay, I'm back to give some comments the next few innings. The Cubs have had some chances, but they can't seem to put together any big hits. Ok, Ortiz might be the slowest pitcher ever. Even Blum is laughing about about how long Ortiz takes. I haven't really noticed, but Hoffpauir's numbers are really dropping. Coming into the fourth, he's hitless in his last six at bats. Make that seven in a row.

Updates from around the league: Cards come back and beat the Marlins, but the Brewers are down 2-0 to the Rockies.

Bottom 4th:

Cubs wasting another good pitching performance so far. Demp gives up a hit, but no real damage. Still 1-0 after 4 innings.

Top 5th:

Answer me this, why is it such a big deal that Frank Thomas is joining the Comcast Sports Net broadcast crew for the Cubs/White Sox series? Maybe White Sox fans care, but I really don't give a hoot. As for the offense, nothing doing as Ortiz goes 1-2-3.

Bottom 5th:

Dempster has to find a way to get the pitcher out. After giving up his second hit to Ortiz, he's able to get out it. Still 1-0, and he is leading off the 6th.

Top 6th:

Astros do have a few guys up in the pen, so you have to think that this inning is probably Ortiz's last inning regardless of what happens.

Soriano has a big chance in the 6th after a lead-off walk to Dempster, and somehow gets a hit up the middle. I thought we had his second double play of the game. Thank goodness Tejeda doesn't have range he used to, but it's up to Theriot, who chases a pitch out of the zone for the first out.

Ortiz is finally out, but Tim Byrdak is in to face the left-handed hitting Fukudome. It goes from bad to worse as Fukudome strikes out. Cecil Cooper uses the Managing for Dummies book and brings in the righty to face Lee. This just ugly as Lee grounds out to 2B, and the Cubs still trail 1-0.

Bottom 6th:

Well, Dempster is doing his job as he works around a 2-out double by Berkman.

Top 7th:

Michael Bourn just robbed Hoffpauir of at least a triple as he tumbles up the hill and makes catch. Anywhere else in the Majors and this game is tied. A walk to Fontenot is wasted. Anybody still want Hill catching full-time? He looked pretty bad in that last at bat.

Bottom 7th:

Wow, I didn't realize that Cub starters have the best ERA in the league. That is telling stat of how bad the bullpen and hitting has been. Hill does throw out a runner, and Dempster cruises through another inning. It would be nice to go out and get a win for him.

Top 8th:

It's Aaron Miles for Dempster. I don't feel like this is much of an upgrade. Right on cue, he grounds out to second. Cubs nothing doing in the 8th, and it's up to Lee, Hoffpauir and Fontenot in the 9th.

Bottom 8th:

Carlos Marmol cruises through the 8th, which is actually some good news on this otherwise crappy day so far.

Top 9th:

If there is any silver lining it is that the Astros are turning to LaTroy Hawkins for the 9th. Fukudome saw a lot of pitches, but couldn't get on. DERREK LEE!!!!!!!!!! You have to love Hawkins. Fontenot can't give the Cubs lead, but the game is tied after Lee's blast to Right. In the double switch, the Astros burned Carlos Lee.

Bottom 9th:

Marmol out for a second inning of work. This should be interesting.Good morning, good afternoon, and good night to Jason Michaels. That was just sick to start the inning. After a walk to Berkman, Marmol is able to get the next two guys, and we're heading for some free baseball.

Top 10th:

Milton Bradley is the PH for Koyie Hill, which is odd with Geo on the bench. Hey, it works as Bradley dumps a hit into left. Oh brother, a bunting situation.......and it works.....not bad. Now the Cubs need a big hit. Soriano will be walked, which might be a blessing. It is now up to Reed Johnson, but he fails to come through for the Cubs.

Bottom 10th:

Kevin Gregg gets the call to start the 10th. I haven't seen the other changes, but I guess Soto just came into Hill's spot in the lineup. Blanco's bat may be bad, but I do like his glove as he makes the first out of the inning. Just as I brag on Blanco's D, he commits an error, but it doesn't matter as Gregg gets Pence to ground out to end the 10th.

Top 11:

When I decided to do the live game blog, I didn't count on extra innings. Well, I'm going to keep it up throughout, but I would really like for the Cubs to bust out in the 11th. Hoffpauir finally gets a hit,  but Fontenot just misses one to left to send the game to the bottom of the 11th.

Bottom 11:

Trouble brewing in the 11th for the Cubs. I'm really starting to hate Blum after he singles to put two runners on for the Astros. Well, I'm impressed after Gregg gets the 6-4-3 double play to end the 11th.

Top 12:

We really need to improve the offense. Geo, Blanco and Miles do nothing and we're heading to the bottom half.

Bottom 12:

Sunday's hero, Jose Ascanio, is on the mound to start the 12th. I wonder if the Astros have anybody left on the bench? Because they just let the pitcher hit for himself. Nope, they have two guys left, but Ascanio cruises through the inning.

Top 13:

Anybody else feeling an extra-inning Soriano home run? We've bashed him enough, haven't we?

And with that, he flips it to the right fielder for an out. Come on, BOBBY SCALES!!!

That's a K for Bobby, and a groundout for Kosuke. Nothing doing on offense. Wow, this offense is really bad!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bottom 13:

Ascanio's back out. Do people still think we have bullpen problems based on what our young arms have done? Ascanio, Marshall, and Guzman have been impressive, not to mention Randy Wells.

In other news, that fifth pitch to Pence looked like a strike on Gameday.

Aaaaaaaaaaand it's over! We'll talk about this later.

Gamecast: June 11th at Astros, Live Blog

Ryan Dempster (4-3, 4.12 ERA) vs. Russ Ortiz (3-2, 3.96 ERA)

Story Lines

The Cubs caught a break today when Roy Oswalt was moved to Saturday thanks to an injury. They caught another break when the Astros decided to push Mike Hampton back. Then, in a nice twist of fate, the Astros decided to throw Russ Ortiz this afternoon. Now don't hold your breath, because they've changed their minds about 1,000 times already. So, Russ may or may not start, but if he does......I see good things in the Cubs future. Ortiz was moved to the bullpen and hasn't started in about month.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching. Well, the Cubs have gotten plenty of that lately, but the after a 7-run Tuesday, they only could scratch across 1-run last night. The good news is that Brewers lost, so they didn't lose any ground on first place, but the Reds and Cards both won leaving the Cubs in fourth place in the NL Central.

I went around the Cubs news outlets today, and didn't find anything really interesting. Milton Bradley still sucks, and according to Lou has a flaw in his swing. Really? The near .200 average didn't clue someone in on that weeks ago. I said it last night in the shoutbox, and I'll say it again. Milton needs to take 2-weeks, head to Iowa and work things out. In the meantime, we can play Micah Hoffpauir or call up Jake Fox to platoon with him.

Today the Cubs turn to Ryan Dempster, who has been pitching much better of late. He lost last time out thanks to Mike Fontenot's defense at third base. I can't wait for Aramis Ramirez to get back. Hee is just something different about playing third, and even with his flaws, Ramirez is just solid.

Who's Hot

Geovanny Soto - Soto clubbed this third HR yesterday, which accounted for the only run.

Cubs Starters - They continue to turn in some gems. Come on offense, please give them a little help.

Who's Not

Alfonso Soriano - Come on Lou....His average is down to .237. He's never been in this kind of slump since coming over to the Cubs.

Milton Bradley - See above. Even if he got a hit last night, it was a really weak hit. I was all for signing "Don't Wake Daddy" or whatever we're calling him, but even Kosuke was better than this at points in the season.

Conclusions

Cubs should win, and we better win. With a win, it would give the Cubs a 5-3 road trip. I'll take that after the rough start to the road this season.

Also, A.J. and I will be live blogging the game today with those who can't catch it on TV, and want more commentary than provided by the various media outlets.

Game Recap: Astros 2, Cubs 1 - An Almost-Win

Cubs loooose
(with a teeny tiny contribution by Kurt)

This game was a perfect example of your typical "almost-win." Of course, an "almost-win" is as good as a loss--which is not very good at all.

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.

Gamecast: June 10th at Astros

Carlos Zambrano (4-2, 3.72 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (5-5, 2.97 ERA)

Story Lines

Well, how about that? The Cubs found a way last night to beat a pretty bad pitcher into submission and not have to worry about the bullpen. It was nice for a change to go to bed and not have to worry about the outcome.

In an added benefit, the Cubs gained ground on both the Brewers and Cardinals to pull within 2.5 games.

Tonight the Cubs go against a lefty that has given them trouble. Wandy Rodriguez pitched six innings of 1-run ball way back on April 7 to give the Astros a victory. Wandy was quietly putting together a nice season, but has been roughed up in his last two outings.

The Cubs counter with Carlos Zambrano, who pitched very well coming off this suspension. With 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball, he lowered his ERA by about half a run last time out. Hopefully, he will follow that up with another strong outing against the woeful Astros.

In other news, Bruce Miles says the Cubs will send Jake Fox down to make room for Aaron Miles today. let me tell you, that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. My guess, and Miles agrees, is that Fox will make his way back when the Cubs play in AL parks. He'll probably split time with Micah Hoffpauir, depending on who pitches.

I'm about to run into class, so lets keep this short.

Who's Hot

Mike Fontentot - Mike went 4-for-5 last night with a HR and two runs scored. In the process, he raised his average to .249. We're getting there folks, and we just need Aramis Ramirez to get back, so we can stop playing Aaron Miles and the like.

Kosuke Fukudome - I love it when a plan comes together. I called out Fukudome last night, and he promptly responded with two hits, two RBI, and two walks. Now if that can work with Milton.

Geovanny Soto - I know it was just three singles, but he has to start somewhere.

Ted Lilly - The ace of the staff hands down right now. Randy Wells might have the great ERA, but Lilly's been doing it all year.

Who's Not

Milton Bradley - Milton went 1-for-7 last night. Oh wait....0-for-6, since the bat he broke doesn't county. He lowered his average to average to .208, and doesn't look close to breaking out of the slump.

Conclusions

Cubs win in a close one tonight thanks to a Carlos Zambrano hit. The Cubs have 3 of 5, and are improving. I really think we are on the brink of a big winning streak.

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