Ryan Dempster (0-0) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (0-0)
Story-lines: After winning a close-on-paper opening game by a score of 4-2, the Cubs look to win their first series of the season tonight. Pitching for the Cubs is Ryan Dempster, coming off of a career year and huge multi-million dollar extension that he probably doesn't deserve. Looking to even up the series for Houston is Wandy Rodriguez, who should be tough as nails having lived his life with the name "Wandy."
Who's hot: Aflonso Soriano, who went 2 for 5 yesterday with a lead-off homerun to start the '09 season. Mike Fontenot, who went 3 for 4 with 2 runs scored, who has been rewarded for his first-game success with a start against Wandy, a lefty.
Who's not: Cubs who started out the season with a big 0-fer: Kosuke Fukudome (0 for 4, already given up on by jumpy Cub fans), Milton Bradley (0 for 3 with a walk, two hilight catches in the outfield, and one scary tumble at first base that somehow didn't result in a trip to the DL), and Derrek Lee (0 for 4) who should either be demoted to 6th in the lineup or benched all together for career minor leaguer Micah Hoffpauir.
Update: Looks like we have to comment in the post, since we reached our shoutbox limit. It said we can only have 60 posts in an hour. So, join the conversation below.
Series Preview: Cubs at Astros
GameCast: Opening Day
Recap: Cubs 4, Astros 2
The Cubs won't be starting the year 0-14.
Tonight's game is a series of stories that can actually be told from the perspective of two types. The first type is the following - and was inspired by the newly improved GROTA Shout Box.
Did you see how Derrek Lee went 0 for 4? Micah Hoffpauir went 1 for 1 with an RBI. Just sayin'.
Did you see how Kosuke Fukudome went 0 for 4? Time for him to take over Kosh's job as the head of the grounds crew.
Imagine what would have happened if Carlos had gone 4 innings walking 6, striking out 3, and surrendering 5. These guys would already be standing on the ledge getting ready to give up on the 2009 season. At least Cub fans are consistent.
The good news is that while a couple of the Cub regulars shockingly failed to get a hit - I know, we expected them all to start the year batting 1.000 - the game started with a splendid leadoff homerun by Alfonso Soriano. The offensive shower continued in the second inning when Aramis also cleared the bleachers with a blast.
In fact, the Cubs were far from overpowering tonight, but they consistently caused trouble for Astros ace Roy Oswalt and they seemed to make the game feel like it was far less close than it actually was. Even when Carlos Marmol walked Lance Berkman and faced a Carlos Lee who also served as the potential tying run (I believe the Cubs should walk Carlos Lee every freakin' time he steps up to the plate, by the way) it didn't seem too stressful. And while Kevin Gregg gave up an earned run in the 9th he notched his first save in as many attempts.
But maybe the best story of tonight was Carlos Zambrano. He threw 97 through 6. He walked 3. He seemed to get into minor bouts of trouble all night - including allowing the leadoff man to get on base in the first 3 innings of the game. But while he petered out by the 7th, leaving with 2 on and 0 outs, Carlos hardly looked like the Big Moose of old who had trouble getting through even the 5th inning of opening day games. Maybe it's an indication of things to come.
Anyway, if the Astros were going to win a game this series, it was this fist one. The Cubs pitching gets stronger while the Astros rotation thins and weakens. It's a glorious start to the 2009 season and I'm happy to say ... Cubs win!
Story-lines: Entering the 2009 season in this, their 101st year without a championship title, the Cubs take on the Astros. The last time Carlos Zambrano faced Houston, he made the entire team his collective biyatch, tossing the first Cubs no-hitter in the lives of many of the people who read this blog. Carlos then fell off the rails to the point where Lou Piniella didn't even call on him to pitch the first game of the failed NLDS.
Who's hot: Nobody! It's opening day! What a dumb topic! (Please ignore that I was the one who came up with it.) Loyal Goat Reader (and Goat Photographer) DB would tell you that Rich Harden is hot, but he's not pitching in this game or even this series.
Who's cold: Pretty much everybody in the north east right now. It's snowing outside my window. Sometimes I hate Canada.
Note: The GameCasts are still in the experimental phase. Feel free to post your take on the game in the comments section of this thread or, if you must, in the ShoutBox. Unfortunately for me, tonight's game is on ESPN2. Here in Canadaland, there is no ESPN2. Therefore, I'm boned. But I'll have a Game Recap for you sometime tonight regardless.
Oh, and as Jason would say, Go Cubs!
Update: Top of the Third
It's still way too early to do the Kurtie Dance of Joy, but 2 solo homeruns later and the Cubs are up 2 to 0. Although Carlos has had a few rough patches (a leadoff walk and he actually dared face Carlos Lee with runners on) some keen defense from Milton Bradley has kept the Cubs on top.
Strangely, 2 runs isn't much of a lead, especially with Opening Day Carlos on the mound, but it feels like way more than 2 runs at this point. The team is playing well.
Hey, look, it's time for real baseball! And do you know how I know it's time? Because it snowed last night in Chicago (oh look, I just killed myself). Nothing says baseball like a thin coating of slush and a 24 degree wind chill.
But no problem for the Cubs because they'll be playing it beautiful Houston under a starry sky (assuming, of course, that they paint some sort of starry sky on the roof of the Houston Dome. Again, nothing says baseball...).
Alright, enough talking about the weather as a) unless you're my grandparents, you stopped feigning interest 175 characters ago and b) the weather sucks. Here are your keys to the series:
- Has Houston recovered from their climate fatigue? You may recall the devastating hurricane at the end of last season that left Houston mentally unprepared for their game against the Cubs, resulting in a no-hitter for Carlos and a one-hitter for Lilly. Will they be up for today's game? I'm so excited to find out, I think I just soiled myself!
- Hey look! Ten seasons at Minute Maid! That's just...super.
- Questions still linger as to whether Wandy Rodriguez has recovered from World Pillow Fight Day. Who knew he was allergic to down?
- While the word is that Lance Berkman remains inconsolable at the loss of Megan Joy, I don't see this affecting his game any. The man's a professional.
It's baseball time in America (And Texas). Let's take a look at the matchups.
Game One - Carlos Zambrano vs. Roy Oswalt
Can Carlos dominate the Astros without the aid of a Hurricane? I say yes because, although opening day has not historically been a friend to Carlos, last year he handled the Astros to a tune of a 2.96 ERA and I don't believe a hurricane could have hit before more than half of those games. Besides, Carlos is exceptional on 6+ days rest, and I don't have a record of him pitching in over 6 months.
Roy Oswalt is probably even a little better than Carlos (god, I hope Carlos isn't reading this. If his is, I live at 100 Wallaby Lane, Australia City, Australia) and is easily one of the best pitchers in the league. Against the Cubs, however, he has not be particularly dominating and last year he only managed 3 strikeouts in his 15 innings.
It's an epic matchup, people! Set your VCRs!
Game Two - Ryan Dempster vs. Wandy Rodriguez
Wandy name is an adjective (Harry Potter's wand was rather wandy); Ryan Dempster's sounds vaguely like "dumpster." Edge? Let's give it to the better pitcher. Ryan Dempster was the staff ace last year and, up until his epic fail in fifth inning of Game One last year, he was great. Wandy makes me think of a Spicy Chicken Sandwich, Fries and a Frosty.
Game two goes to the Demp.
Game Three - Ted Lilly vs. Brian Moehler
Brian Moehler is about as good a third starter as Sean Marshall is a fifth starter. Which is to say, Moehler is not a good third starter. But when your other options are Mike Hampton and...some other guy, you clearly don't have enough options. Moehler checks in a solidly mediocre with a 4.50 ERA and an 11-8 record.
Ted Lilly was the best #3 in baseball last year* with 17 wins in his pocket (along with, interestingly enough, 14 fingers. Watch your back, Koyie). Lilly was roughed up in his last start, but this is the big time now and look for Lilly to step up. Of course, this is the classic frustrating Cubs matchup and exactly the kind of game I hate.
(* note: may not actually be true. No time for research, gotta write!)
I'm going with the Cubs taking two of three (pick your two) against the Astros as a) I'm a Cubs fan and b) the Astros sort of blow.
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Dear players, management, and fans of the Houston Astros:
I agree that you got jobbed when you were forced to play us last weekend in Miller Park. Anyone who knows baseball must realize that 99% of the fans who would show up there would be rooting for us. It was a move marked by a lack of imagination, sensitivity, and certainly fueled by greed.
However, it has been over a week, and the whining and bitching coming from your neck of the woods has NOT abated; in fact, it is just getting louder. It is time that you accept a few facts:
1) Where in the name of our Lord do you think you could have held this game and NOT drawn more Cubs fans than Astros fans?? I bet we could outdraw y'all in ARLINGTON! Hell, we outdraw you in your OWN dumpy little juicebox.
2) It was two games out of 162. You are going to miss the playoffs by more than two games. Your first half of the season was pitifully crappy, and you dug a hole too deep to cover up.
3) IF you actually did make the playoffs, as a Wild Card, and even IF you won your round of the NLDS, we would slice and dice you up like the carrots you are. So what the hell are you whining about, anyway?
Now shut up and go haul that waterlogged sofa out of your basement. It stinks to high heaven. Use one part Clorox to one part water to scrub the grunge off yer walls.
The Uncouth Sloth
Houston's got to be pissed. There they were, on a ridiculous hot streak, beating teams left and right, and suddenly a hurricane named Ike and a commissioner named Bud brought their party to a screeching halt.
2 games and 18 innings later, the Astros achieved a whopping solitary hit while the Cubs took advantage of how the neutral series ground was actually Wrigley North.
In today's annihilation, Ted Lilly threw 7 innings on 85 pitches. He allowed 1 hit - only 1! - walked 1 Astro, and struck out 9. And while Lilly was mowing them down, the Cubs offense delivered on some big hits. Jim Edmonds hit his 18th homerun of the year, Derrek Lee smacked number 19, and Geovany Soto hit his 22nd. But the best part about it - all but 1 of the homeruns hit today had runners on.
It is true that Lou Piniella tried to make things interesting late in the game. He called on Samardzija, who only recorded 1 out while walking 2. More dastardly, Lou turned to Bob Howry in the 9th. I remarked at the time to Jon Miller that Lou was trying to turn it into a save situation for Kerry Wood.
Series Recap: Perhaps the best, single word to describe this series is "surreal." The Cubs played a road series against Houston in Milwaukee, where they proceeded to obliterate the formerly hottest team in baseball while turning around an abysmal downward spiral that had led more than one Cub fan into jumping off the ledge.
More importantly, after going 1-8 during a stretch that began on August 30th and ended on September 9th, the Cubs have gone 5-2 from a stretch beginning on Sept 6 to tonight. The Cubs are also riding another winning streak, this one at 4 games, and they find themselves in the position of landing the death blow against the flailing Brewers, who could be eliminated as soon as Thursday.
It's a cool situation, really. Here we were, panicking about how the Cubs would have a rough road this month, including 6 against the "surgin' Brewers," and now we are looking at it from the other end. The Cubs are in position to keep the Brewers out of the playoffs all together.
Current Record: 90-58
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 8 games in front of Milwaukee and 10.5 ahead of Houston
Best Possible Record: 104-58
Worst Possible Record: 90-72
On Pace For: 98-64
Magic Number: 6, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
The Tribune reported earlier today that the Cubs-Astros series remains up in the air. Although structural damage did not occur at the Juice Box, the Cubs are apparently refusing to fly down to Houston until no earlier than Monday.
In his post, Goat Reader Luke mentions the possibility of a game played in Atlanta.
I don't really care where they play, so long as they do it soon. The ironic thing is that Alfonso Soriano said a bit ago that the negative of the extra time off is that the Cubs might lose their rythym.
Uh, Fonz, you've lost like 7 of your last 10. I'm just saying.
The Astros, meanwhile, are one of the hottest teams out there. Seems like the time off could be more of a negative to them than it might be to the Cubs.
Update: The Tribune is reporting that two games have been scheduled in - of all places - Milwaukee. Goat Friend Paul Sullivan writes:
The Cubs and Houston Astros will play two games in Milwaukee, one on Sunday night at 7:05 and the other Monday afternoon at 1:05. The Astros will be the home team.
Luckily for Houston, the Cubs are unlikely to get a large crowd of fans willing to drive from Chicago to Milwaukee in order to see two extra Cub games. Equally fortunate for the Astros, the Cubs haven't shown a tenacity at winning ballgames in Milwaukee this year.
Put it to you another way: score.
First, before anything else, let me thank the New York Mets, who swept the Brewers. Because of the Mets, the Cubs maintain a 4.5 game lead on the second place team in the division.
Second, I will again point out that a slump had to be expected.
Those two things out of the way, I am in full-blown, sick to my stomach panic mode. It's not that I'm not expecting the Cubs to reach the playoffs, because I am positive they will. It's not even that I think the Brewers will creep in and take the division, because I would be shocked if they do. The pressing concern for me is the stark realization that any team can swing from unrelenting momentum directly into a gut-wrenching slide. If the Cubs can lose 5 straight games, and if in 4 of those 5 losses they combine to score 5 runs in total, then my question becomes this: what's stopping them from doing that in October?
At this point, the only way the Cubs will address my concerns is by winning the crap out of their remaining games. Yep, that's right. "Winning the crap out of their remaining games." For those of you who speak and understand English rather than Kurtytalk, "winning the crap" means "playing dominantly." With 22 games remaining, the Cubs will need to win close to that epic number of 15 in order for me to feel less concerned. They will need to step up and dominate the Cardinals and Brewers, and they will also need to extract revenge from the Astros in Houston.
Will they be able to do that? I think we'll know within the next week or so. We may know as soon as the end of their upcoming series with the Reds. But if the Cubs fail to pull out of this dive they're in, playoffs or not, it will become an October of Diminished Expectations.
Oh, and because this is supposed to be a Game Recap: Cubs lost 4-0. The offense got shut down again. Dempster didn't do badly, but something has gone horribly wrong with the hitting. My thoughts on this, if not evidently clear already ... fix it soon, guys. Fix it soon.
Let's play a game of Good News, Bad News.
Good News: Carlos Zambrano was throwing 96MPH last night.
Bad News: He left early because he wasn't feeling well. The implication is that it's an arm problem. The good news is that the Cubs are deep enough to pitch through a short series without him, but the bad news is that they have to be less likely to succeed, I mean, that can't be contested. That said, I personally suspect that he'll be ok, they'll give him half the month off, he'll come back and throw a few tune-up starts and be ready for October.
Good News: The offense came alive last night. Homeruns by Soriano, Soto, and Edmonds led the charge.
Bad News: Lou Piniella has an addiction to Bob Howry and he turned to him again last night. Howry gave up 4 earned runs without recording an out and he is ultimately to blame for last night's loss. Somebody needs to have an intervention with Piniella, maybe with graphs and charts showing Lou how damaging too much Howry can be.
Good News: The Cubs were able to come from behind and tie up the game in the 7th inning.
Bad News: They couldn't seal the deal and failed to capitalize on late inning and extra inning opportunities. This includes Piniella giving Casey McGehee his first ever major league at bat in a clutch situation, ignoring Micha Hoffpauir who was also on the bench and has been an insanely good hitter this year.
Bad News: Piniella also turned to his two best relievers for 4 innings. Marmol pitched 2 and Wood pitched 2, despite the bullpen being replenished and having Jon Lieber, who in theory could have thrown 4 innings on his own.
In other words, I'm ultimately blaming Lou for last night's debacle. The Cubs could have won the game, but there were a number of bad-if-not-all-out weird calls made by the manager. But, hey, he wins them more games than he loses them, let's just call it a senior moment and move on.
Good News: Milwaukee lost too, leaving the Cubs with a 4.5 game lead despite their 4 game skid. I said it before, I'll say it again - they were absolutely due for one more slide this season. This is it. They will climb out of it and we'll all have a chuckle in October saying "hey, remember when they lost 4 in a row to start September and we were all kind of crapping our pants?"
I look forward to that day. I long for that day. It's coming.
Before you sneak your big toe back out onto the ledge, I'd like to hit you with a few things.
1. The Cubs are still 7-3 in their last 10 played.
2. A week ago, I predicted that they'd have one more slump before the playoffs, and I said "please let it be early in the month, rather than later." Hopefully this is it.
3. Jason Marquis lost today. Ignore his stat line. Just remember those four words: Jason Marquis lost today. Are you surprised?
All that said, I've reached a point in the season in which every Cubs loss makes me nervous. It's hard for me to practice what I've preached, and a loss today just adds to my ball of stress. The Cubs offense has looked pretty dead ever since Pittsburgh left town. Thankfully, they're taking on a couple of punching bags tomorrow and Wednesday, but I've got that Rob-like mentality that says "waitasecond, if the Cubs can lose three games straight with next-to-no offense, what's stopping them from doing the same thing next month?"
It's an unhappy thought. Here's to hoping that Carlos Zambrano makes us feel happier tomorrow.