Brian Moehler sucks. Before tonight's game, he'd allowed 10 earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched against the Cubs this season. He was no better tonight, giving up another five runs in just three innings.
His replacements fared no better, as the Cubs feasted on Astro pitching. Five Cubs ended the night with multiple hits, and a couple of young-and-struggling types in particular boosted their numbers with great hitting.
Mike Fontenot went 4-for-5 on the night, including a double and his sixth home run. And right on cue, Geovany "I love you, Rob!" Soto went 3-for-5. Unfortunately for Soto, however, while a three-hit night is great for the OBP, he'll need more than singles to return to his '08 form.
On the other side of the ball, Ted Lilly pitched a great game, and was an out away from a sub-3.00 ERA on the season. Furthermore, after being given a big lead, Aaron Heilman and Sean Marshall both threw strikes, giving up a combined zero walks.
There was really only one negative aspect to tonight's game.
That was having to watch Milton Bradley try to remember how to hit major league pitching throughout the game. Bradley ended up leaving ten men on base, going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts and at least one weakly hit pop-fly in foul territory that I remember.
Am I worried? No, not really. In fact, I'm HAPPY! The Cubs looked great tonight, and I hope it's a sign of better things to come.
Minute Maid Park has to be the weirdest in baseball. How many ground rule doubles do they have a year? Even Ted Lilly hit a triple! Ted Lilly! A triple! Afrghth!1! And yet, on a night when the Cubs offense was cracking, the Astros nearly got no-hit by Lilly... again.
Ryan Theriot and Milton Bradley -- who is returning from another near-miss with the DL -- were the only two Cub regulars to miss out on the party.
Anyway, it takes more than one big game to turn a team's offensive woes around but two or three more would be nice. Nicer still would be an adjustment to the lineup, dropping the Fonz to cleanup or 5th, but I digress...
Ted Lilly (6-4, 3.28 ERA) vs. Brian Moehler (2-3, 6.37 ERA)
I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some baseball. I know the 2009 Chicago Cubs have been far from perfect, but the day just feels better when there is baseball to be watched on TV.
A few stories are making their way through the web. The easiest to pick out is the no-brainer pick of Stephen Strasburg as the No. 1 pick in tonight's first-year player draft. The draft starts at 6 p.m. EST, so I will update the post when the Cubs make their selection. There is no way to predict whom the Cubs might select, but unless 30 teams go crazy and let Strasburg fall, it probably won't get us too excited.
It looks like Rich Harden will make his return to the rotation on Saturday against the Twins. It will be amazing if this is the only DL stint for Rich all season. The currect odds say he makes at least one more trip sometime in late July.
According to reports, Aaron Miles will come off the DL on Wednesday. That means Andres Blanco or Bobby Scales will be sent down most likely, but we will get to that tomorrow.
As for tonight's game, the Cubs will turn to Ted Lilly once again. In you can believe it, Lilly is making his third start in Houston already this season. Too bad, Randy "I can't Win" Wells won't get a chance against the Astro lineup.
Ted has really won me over, and hopefully he will pick up a deserved victory as the Cubs try and avoid extra innings. Is it really possible to play four extra innings games in five games?
Also, tonight should bring the return of Milton Bradley to the lineup. I don't know about many of you, but I'm ready for crazy hot Milton Bradley.
Speaking of hot, it's time to look at some of the hot and not Cubs heading into tonight's game.
Angel Guzman - Guz picked up his first save of the year when he was thrust into duty on Sunday after every other realible pitcher was used. His ERA is down to 2.28 and is Lou's top bullpen choice right now.
Ryan Theriot - "The Riot" picked up three hits on Sunday, including his 6th HR of the season (It was also his first ever road HR). Theriot scored two runs and has the average over .290 once again.
Kosuke Fukudome - Remember when Fukedome was hitt over .310? Well, all of the sudden he's down to .290. He's current on a 3-for-19 slump. Hopefully this isn't a repeat of last year.
Carlos Marmol - While the bullpen pitched fairly well on Sunday, that wasn't the case for Marmol. He walked two guys before Lou had seen enough. We really need Marmol to get it together.
The Cubs are 3.5 heading into this week, which is where they've been for much of the last couple weeks. It would be nice for the Cubs to make a move on the top of the division in the next two weeks. The Cubs are due for a blowout, and Brian Moehler is the perfect pitcher to give up five or six runs in the first few innings.
Sure, it's easy to look at the Astros 25-30 record and see a bad team. Not only is it easy, it's fun. But what about the fact that the Astros have a better record than the Cubs over their last 10 games. Is that a fun fact? Or that they've played 14-15 baseball over their last 30 games.
Wait, what? Huh. Alright, I take back everything I was about to say. Any team that can't even manage to play 30 games over 30 games immediately loses my respect. The Astros suck.
But they're still dangerous (and don't you forget it!). The heart of the Astros lineup is the Killer B's, er, B, Lance Berkman*. They also have a killer T, P, and an L, although none of them are able to get HB the P like the B's of lore. They've got a killer VORP, wOBP, and OPS though.
But enough letters, let's get to some numbers. If you've got the time, I've got the matchups.
(* and now I've used up all my commas for the rest of the articles)
Tuesday, June 6th - Ted Lilly vs. Brian Moehler
On paper, this matchup clearly favors the Cubs. Brian Moehler comes into play with a 6.37 ERA and has been giving out hits like a hit given at a hit given event (what, you expected a Bobby Brown reference?). However, the game isn't played on paper, it's played on the field. Luckily for the Cubs, the matchup's even better on the field.
Lilly has not only been the best pitcher on the Cubs, he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball. When Lilly came to Chicago, his K:BB ratio went from less than two to more than 3, and that's made all the difference. Ha, and you thought it was taking the road less traveled. Shows what Frost knows about pitching.
Wednesday, June 7th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Wandy Rodriguez
You know why Carlos hasn't moved into the upper echelon of pitchers, a la Roy Halliday or even Roy Oswalt? It's not because of the occasional emotional outburst. And it's also not because he prefers to fly Southwest instead of ride the team's charter (he's just keepin' it real, people). It's because his control's not that great. While he probably has better stuff than any of those other pitchers, his control is not consistently good and that's why his ERA is generally higher and he hasn't become the best pitcher in the NL.
Good Carlos is not the Carlos that quietly goes about his business. Bad Carlos is not the Carlos that beats the hell out of Gatorade machines. Here's the real Good/Bad breakdown:
- Good Carlos: Carlos throwing strikes
- Bad Carlos: Carlos not throwing strikes
Simple. So Carlos, go out there and throw strikes.
You all know my opinions of Wandy Rodriguez. He's become a very nice pitcher. He has a name that sounds suspiciously like a burger joint. And so while his numbers may evoke thoughts of one Theodore Roosevelt Lilly, he shall never compare.
Thurday, June 8th - Ryan Dempster vs. Roy Oswalt
While Dempster's overall numbers are only middling (4.12 ERA, 4-3 record), he's been great since the calendar turned. In the last four weeks, Dempster has a 2.90 ERA and has really improved his control. Given what he's been dealing with regarding his daughter, the numbers are doubly impressive. Perhaps his recent bout of inspired baseball...really is inspired. So far, Ryan's done nothing but live up to his contract (some might say two months into a four year contract is too soon to judge...not me). Here's hoping he continues his recent trend of pitching and that his daughter continues to inspire him as she overcomes her own obstacles.
Oswalt has definitely been less than good so far this year, but looking at his peripherals, it's hard to see why. His K:BB numbers are slightly on the bad side of his usual line, but not any worse than in 2007. Same with his WHIP. In fact, the only thing that he's clearly been worse at is giving up the extra base hits; his homer rate is way up (12 already, usually a season's worth for him). Looking at his Ground ball to fly ball ratio (0.67), hitters are getting the ball into the air far more often on him and it's proceeding to leave the park a bit more often. Also, a greater percentage of contract against him has been line drives than ever before (20%), suggesting all the hits he's been giving up have been earned. Looks like Oswalts's having a down year, stuff-wise. Okay, I guess that wasn't so hard to figure out after all. Nevermind. Here's hoping the trend continues.
Nothing to conclude because whatever I type here affects the Cubs outcome. Because I'm magic. I think I might be a witch.
Although, I will say that the MLB Draft is today! Bring on the prospects! I will be live blogging the event, although not in any kind of written format. However, if you happen to be around me this afternoon, you can watch my lips move as I maintain a running inner monologue (or "monoblog").
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?
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.
Well, poop. All good things must come to an end, I guess. A shaky 4th inning from starter Rich Harden, a wild start to the top of the 7th by reliever Jose Ascanio, and some solid defensive plays by the Astros brought about the end of two Cub winning streaks: the five straight wins in the Cubs' last five games, as well as their formerly perfect record in games in which the Cubs scored four or more runs (they're now 20-1 in those games, I think, assuming I still understand how numbers work).
Derrek Lee gets the gold star on offense today. He added about 25 points to his average with today's 4-hit effort, which included a double and a home run. Two other Cubs got multiple hits: Alfonso Soriano (one of which was a home run), and Kosuke Fukudome. Kosuke has been earning the number on the back of his jersey lately, and currently leads the team with a .333 batting average. Together, the team knocked out 11 hits, four more than the Astros (see? I understand subtraction!).
On the less-gold-starrish side of things, Mike Fontenot posted his fifth consecutive oh-fer. He's now in the middle of an 0-for-16 streak. He does have a handful of walks in that time, but let's be honest. We want hits, Mike. HITS! AND WALKS! AND HOME RUNS! YEAH MIKE FONTENOT! Yeah!
Cubs hurlers put up seven shutout innings today; even star "hurler" Neal Cotts goosed the 'Stros in the 9th (in his case I mean the OTHER hurling--you know, like barfing? lol!). Unfortunately, they mixed in a pair of bad innings with those good ones. In the 4th, Rich Harden served up three extra-base hits, including a two-run shot to Pudge Rodriguez; and in the 7th, Jose Ascanio went 2-for-2 on his first pair of pitches--he hit both batters he faced. Both would score--one on a Lance Berkman single, the other on a wild pitch.
Apart from those first three batters (Matsui, Bourn, and Elvis), Ascanio would not allow any additional base runners. He also got two strikeouts during his perfect 8th inning. In the end, however, the six runs allowed by Harden and Ascanio were insurmountable.
It's hard to be too upset about this one. The Cubs scored five runs, and weren't completely awful from the mound. Who knows what might've happened if Geo Soto's liner to end the game got past Jeff Keppinger? They were right there. Hopefully that bad luck gets turned around against the Cardinals on Tuesday night.
Brian Moehler (0-2, 8.44 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (4-1, 4.54 ERA)
I spent a good hour writing a post this morning that I promptly lost when trying to add the graphic to the left. So, this is going to be a lot shorter than I wanted this morning.
There are a few things that caught me eye yesterday about Cecil Cooper, who might be the next great Dusty Baker. After the Astros scored four runs to the tie the game, they had runners on first and second with no outs. What does Cecil do? Well, he lets Jason Michaels swing away and the Cubs get out of it without further damage.
Then, in the bottom of the 9th after Bobby Scales moved to second on the sac-bunt, Cecil decides to pitch to Alfonso Soriano instead of pitching to Ryan Theriot. I know Theriot has five home runs this month, but you have to put the double play in order. Anyway, lets move on.
Milton Bradley makes his return today after his one-game suspension. Milton was starting to hit when he had to sit this week, and he hasn't played since Wednesday. Hopefully he isn't rusty from the lack of playing time.
Derrek Lee - this might be a little early, but he was 1-for-3 with a walk yesterday, including putting the Cubs pu 1-0. He looked better yesterday, but he really doesn't deserve to be in the hot section. It has been a long year for Derrek, so I'm happy to see him do anything positive.
Micah Hoffpauir - Well, if Derrek Lee winds up on the DL at some point, I'm pretty sure the Hoff will do better than Phil Nevin a few years ago. He had a huge two-run home run yesterady that gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead at the time.
Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol - they both looked really strong yesterday, the rest of the bullpen not so much.
Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilman - That brings us to the 9th inning. These two were pretty bad yesterday, but Lou said that Gregg would be out there again today if the there was a save situation.
Mike Fontenot - I have a feeling that Mike Fontenot might be losing some playing time. He was 0-for-4 yesterday, and hasn't shown any signs of breaking out.
The Cubs really should pick up their sixth straight win today, but crazy things happen in baseball. The Cubs are all along in second place, and could be in first place tomorrow if they win and the Brewers lose.
As Len and Bob always say, it's never easy.
The Cubs came through when they needed to in this one. After five solid innings from Astros ace Roy Oswalt, the Cubs' two first basemen both came through in the bottom of the 6th. Derrek Lee brought home Alfonso Soriano with a flip single out to shallow left, and Micah Hoffpauir followed with a "useful shot" into the bleachers to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Geo Soto's RBI in the 8th may have looked unnecessary at the time, but boy was it ever.
After an absolutely dumbfounding performance from the Cubs so-called closer in the top of the 9th (we'll get to that later), the Cubs ended up needing a 5th run in the bottom of the inning to pull out the win--and they got it. Everyone's new favorite Cub Bobby Scales!!! drew a walk on a 3-2 fastball, moved to second on Aaron Miles' sacrifice, and shouted, "Win! Win! Win!" all the way home on a clutch single from Alfonso Soriano. All in all, a great performance from the Cub offense in this game.
Let's do the bad news first: Kevin Gregg was not good today. After giving up back-to-back homers to Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman and Carlos "Also Fat" Lee, Gregg couldn't get any of the next three batters out, and left with the bases loaded. Aaron Heilman came on in "relief," and promptly "relieved" the Cubs of their lead on a two-run single on the first pitch to Pudge Rodriguez.
But hey, there's good news! Randy Wells put up six more scoreless innings today. That's 15.1 scoreless in his career with the Cubs, the first Cub since 1993 to start off on such a good streak. He's been hittable, but has avoided any major damage by allowing just one extra base hit this season (a double to Jason Kendall in his last start, against Milwaukee). In addition, Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol continue to dominate; today they combined for two innings with four strikeouts and zero base-runners.
Should we begin demanding changes in the way Lou trots out his relievers to close games? To be honest, I'm not sure. Before today, Kevin Gregg had pitched 6.2 innings in May, allowing just one run while racking up seven strikeouts. Regardless, it looks like we've got an offense we can trust, even without two of our best hitters in Ramirez and Bradley. Hey, a win's a win, right?
Roy Oswalt (1-2, 4.50 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
I'm walking at my Master's graduation this morning, so I'm saving time and using part of Kurt's Gamecast from yesterday since the game was rained out.
So the Cubs were rained out yesterday, and will make that game up on July 30th, which was a common off day for both teams. Not to mention, the two teams were already playing a 3-game series that same week in Chicago.
The Cubs didn't catch a break since the Astros have decided to keep Roy Oswalt on regular rest, and not pitch Brian Moehler for today's game. However, the Cubs are going to use Randy Wells today, probably just to see him in action. I haven't read anything about tomorrow's starter, but I have a feeling that Marshal might get skipped this time through.
Milton Bradley will finally serve his one-game punishment today. I'm sure the writers will be out and in full force saying that Milton Bradley is once again hurting the team if he goes 0-for-anything on Sunday. I'm sure they will blame the fact that he had to take three days off when he was starting to heat up, blah, blah, blah.
That's all I got today, because I need to get to the second degree I've earned. The sad thing is I'm starting a new graduate degree on June 8th. I'm never going to be done with school. You can check out the Hot and not list, which is the same as yesterday.
Ryan Theriot - Theriot is
currently second on the team with 5 homeruns. That puts him on pace to
hit 24 this year assuming he avoids nasty 50-game suspensions and
bizarre ligament injuries.
Bobby Scales! - Scales! has played in 6 games,
gotten hits in each appearance, is batting .444 on the season, and 4 of
his 8 career hits have been for extra bases. Did we mention he's a
31-year-old rookie? A couple more weeks of this and he just might play
his way onto the team for the full season.
Reed Johnson - After batting .216 for the month of April, the resident SWP is batting .294 in May with 6 RBI.
Alfonso Soriano - An 0-fer
against the Padres has dropped Soriano's average to .271 on the
season. Then again, he's on pace to hit a Sosaesque number of
homeruns. Imagine what this offense will do when he goes on one of his
legendary hot streaks!
The Questionable Quartet - They've been doing
better on the whole. Derrek has struggled since his neck tried to
break, but I remain confident that they will have some good months
Starting with the Padres and continuing with
the Astros, the Cubs have picked a good time to get hot. Neither San
Diego nor Houston are real challenges, although the Astros have an
annoying tendency to smack around Cubs pitchers.
More than anything the outcome of this game will be determined by
the performance of Randy Wells. He's got a lot of reasons to pitch
well, the foremost one being that if he does then he'll likely be
bullpen bound once Carlos Zambrano returns from the DL.
No Game today because of rain. The makeup date is July 30th. Check back tomorrow.
It wasn't so long ago that the Cubs were a 10-11 team on the cusp of mediocrity. A handful of dickish fans jumped ship, sarcastically informing us that the team was finished, the Cubs sucked, and wait til next year.
...on April 30th they were telling us that.
Since May 1st, though, the Cubs have gone 10-3. They are .5 games out of first place in the Central. They've outscored their opponents 75 to 53 and that's with half their lineup in a slump, that's with their best hitter on the DL, that's with half the bullpen looking like re-fried shiz with a "z," and with their ace pitcher on the DL for a gimpy leg.
So what's going to happen when they start hitting and pitching like they could?
Ryan Theriot - Theriot is currently second on the team with 5 homeruns. That puts him on pace to hit 24 this year assuming he avoids nasty 50-game supsensions and bizarre ligament injuries.
Bobby Scales! - Scales! has played in 6 games, gotten hits in each appearance, is batting .444 on the season, and 4 of his 8 career hits have been for extra bases. Did we mention he's a 31-year-old rookie? A couple more weeks of this and he just might play his way onto the team for the full season.
Reed Johnson - After batting .216 for the month of April, the resident SWP is batting .294 in May with 6 RBI.
Alfonso Soriano - An 0-fer against the Padres has dropped Soriano's average to .271 on the season. Then again, he's on pace to hit a Sosaesque number of homeruns. Imagine what this offense will do when he goes on one of his legendary hot streaks!
The Questionable Quartet - They've been doing better on the whole. Derrek has struggled since his neck tried to break, but I remain confident that they will have some good months ahead.
Starting with the Padres and continuing with the Astros, the Cubs have picked a good time to get hot. Neither San Diego nor Houston are real challenges, although the Astros have an annoying tendency to smack around Cubs pitchers.
More than anything the outcome of this game will be determined by the performance of Randy Wells. He's got a lot of reasons to pitch well, the foremost one being that if he does then he'll likely be bullpen bound once Carlos Zambrano returns from the DL.