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.
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but as per usual, my time has been at such high demand and those daily transatlantic flights have really been taking it out of me. I’ll try to update this every Monday as the Cubs tend to have most Mondays off throughout the season and it seems to be the unofficial start of the new week.
Since everyone with an Internet connection likes to do “power” rankings (whatever that means), I figure we can do them too. While most experts like to rank all 30 teams, I have neither the time nor the care for anyone outside of the NL Central. Hell, I barely care about any outside of the Cubs, so the other five losers in the division should feel lucky I’ve even mentioning their name. Especially you Houston...good lord do I hate everything about how you choose to be (more on that later).
Also, for fun’s sake, we’ll compare my rankings to those of the Tribune’s Phil Rogers. Here’s how he ordered the division this week: Cards, Cubs, Brewers, Red, Pirates, Assblows. Let’s get started.
1. St. Louis Birds on Artificially Manufactured Wooden Sticks (20-12)
Gotta respect what the Cards have been able to do here early in the season. Clearly they have the best hitter in all of baseball (a title you probably don’t want to have these days) and their bullpen has been surprisingly good. Although the Cards have cooled off over their last 10 games (going 5-5), they have a favorable schedule coming up. STL is 12-5 at home (only the Dodgers and Red Sox are better in their own parks) and 17 of their next 26 games are at Buschhhhhhhhhhhhh.
2. Chicago Cubs (17-14)
So the blue and red flag might fly below three others tonight in the NLC standings, but that really doesn’t mean dick when you’re only 2.5 games out of first place. While some of us might be a little...distraught...over the current incarnation of the Cubbies, I’m cautiously optimistic if not encouraged. The team has been relatively spoiled the last two years as most of the big names have avoided injuries, but now it is all starting to pile on at once. A cause for concern? Hell yes, but look where the Cubs are. Two and half out with a team made up of guys who were getting PT in Iowa this time last year. If Lou can get the right chemistry in the bullpen and/or the Cubs can get their big names back and swinging, the rest of the division might want to invest in a pair of Oops I Crapped My Pants.
3. Cincinasty Reds (18-14)
I absolutely refuse to give Dusty Baker any sort of credit for this team’s decent start, so let’s not even think it's possible that Baker has somehow worked his magic on a club that will most likely falter in about a month. Sure, they just finished an impressive series against the Cardinals, but this team confuses me dearly. First of all, they are 7-9 at home and 11-5 on the road (best road record in the majors). Do you really think they will be able to win like this all season? Oh, and try to figure out this logic. The Harangutan has a 2.93 ERA and a 3-3 record while Bronson Arroyo is 5-2 with a 7.02 ERA. Argh, DUSTY!!!!!!!!!
4. Chicago’s Northern-Most Suburb Brewers (18-14)
What did I learn from the latest series between the Cubs and Crew? I learned that Ryan Braun is really dangerous but also a little school boy biatch (Oh no poor Ryan, did the scary Canadian with the goatee throw the ball to close to you? Let me taste your tears). I learned that even though the Brewers were at full strength for that series, they really aren’t that much better than half a Cubs team. I learned that as long as the Brewers trot that bullpen out there on a daily basis, they will never win this division. And I learned that my George Foreman Grill does not cook my chicken evenly (I didn’t learn that from the series, but I was making some dinner during one of the games and needless to say I was disappointed).
5. Houston AssTrolls (14-17)
I could analyze Houston’s most recent performances...or I could list all the reasons what I hate them: I hate how Miguel Tejada has to clap his hands furiously after he does anything that is remotely decent. I hate how Hunter Pence looks like he running around with suitcases in his hands. I hate how the Astros thought it was a good idea to have Russ Ortiz, LaTroy Hawkins and Mike Hampton on their team all at the same time. I hate how they have not one, but two players on their team named Geoff (Blum and Geary). Most of all, I hate how Lance Berkman looks like Tony Stewart and both are considered “elite athletes.”
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (12-19)
I haven’t had the chance to take a good look at the ‘Rates this
season since they have yet to play the Cubs, but losing your last 9
games cannot be good for business (at least that’s what I’ve
been told). Maybe the Pirates decided they were playing too good and
decided to go into a slump so they could attack under the cover of
mediocracy? The last thing Pittsburgh wants to do is gain any sort of
attention so opponents start taking them seriously, right? Well played
Pirates. Well played indeed.
If Jason Marquis is a blind squirrel, then shutting out the Pirates is a nut he found. I guess it was bound to happen. Marquis went 7 strong innings, throwing 95 pitches, striking out 3 while walking 0 and surrendering 5 hits. However, in a turn of pure irony, while Marquis battened down the hatches and held the Pirates scoreless, the Cubs offense floundered and managed to only score 2, one from unlikely hero Ronny Cedeno, and the other from a sacrifice bunt by Henry Blanco.
The Cubs offense actually accounted for 7 hits - including doubles by Soriano, Theriot, and DeRosa - and 2 walks, but for the most part they just couldn't finish what they started. Fortunately, it turns out that the Cubs don't always need to score 12 or more runs in a game to win.
For me, perhaps the funniest part of the game is how, in 2 innings pitched, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol combined to strike out more Pirates than Marquis managed in 7. Not that Lou had it planned that way, but maybe it actually works out to the team's benefit to replace a soft throwing righty with two flame-throwers who derive pleasure from throwing pitches with ungodly break to them. Regardless, the Cubs won again, and when they eventually lay claim to the NL Central Championship, while their thank you speech should have 10 minutes dedicated to the Pirates, let the detractors remember that the Brewers played Pittsburgh just as often.
Series Recap: Another road series sweep. Just two months ago, the Cubs were a team with a glaring weakness - they could not regularly win on the road. However, after having gone 13-1 in their last 14 road games, the Cubs now have one of the best road records in baseball to help compliment their overall standing as - wait for it - The Best Team in The Game. Chicago is now 34-31 away from home. Similarly, the Phillies share that road record, the Brewers are 36-31, the Angels top all of baseball with 40 wins and 25 losses, and the Cardinals are actually 37-29. Maybe it's no coincidence that the Cubs have turned things around after releasing Scott Eyre, who was apparently depleting his teammates of energy by eating his - and their - share at all the pre-game buffets.
Before this month started, I predicted that they should win 17. They have; in fact, the Cubs have now won 18 this month. I also said that they could win 20 if all the cards fell the right way. At this point, 20 wins seems very likely. Some people are going to look to this upcoming 4-game set against the Phillies as a Series With Implications. I'm not so severe in my way of thinking, but it certainly would be nice if the Cubs could step on the Phillies's throats for 4 games and make it clear to them that they won't have what it takes come October.
Current Record: 83-50
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5.5 games in front of Milwaukee and 10 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 112-50
Worst Possible Record: 83-79
On Pace For: 101-61
Magic Number: 25, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
If there's such a thing as jinxes, then I am responsible for the Carlos Zambrano implosion tonight. Earlier in the day on Jon Miller's show, I predicted that Carlos was going to dominate the toothless Pirates tonight.
Apparently Carlos decided that the best way to spend the first inning was by trying to throw the ball through Geovany Soto's chest. Consequently, he was wild. However, after a rough 3-run, nearly 30-pitch first inning, the Moose buckled down and I doubt many people were surprised when the Cubs took the lead in the 4th after Geovany Soto drove in 3 runs with a bases-clearing double, followed by Carlos himself continuing his hitting and RBI streak by knocking home his catcher.
Then, it became a dogfight. The Cubs scored their 4, but the Pirates responded by scoring 1. The Cubs scored another with a DeRosa double, the Pirates retaliated with a 2-run 5th that chased Carlos. The Cubs scored another in the 6th thanks to a Geovany Soto solo homerun, and then the Pirates scored 2 more to claim an 8-7 lead.
Then, in the 8th inning, the Cubs busted out their slugging implements* and rang up the Pirates for 7. Mike Fontenot led off the inning with a single, promoting the Pirates to fatally turn to Craig Hansen. After making the fatal mistake of allowing Alfonso Soriano to reach on a single, Hansen proceeded to walk Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez. Then, Sean Burnett swooped in to save the day, and was rewarded by allowing a single to Reed Johnson (scoring Theriot). Then, after securing the first two outs of the inning, Geovany Soto hit another double, scoring another 3 runs, and he was followed by Fontenot who also hit a double, scoring another run. Phew, did you catch all of that?
(*because "whupping sticks" is just too cliche)
Anyway, that pretty much wrapped it up for the Cubs. Sure, Kerry Wood scared us a little in the 9th, but the final result was Cubs 14, Pirates 9, and after a considerable offensive effort, they have now won 82 games on the season, they are 32 games over .500, they have won yet another series, and with 5 games remaining they have matched my wins prediction for the month.
By the way, a couple of weeks ago Peter Gammons wrote a blog speculating about whether or not Geovany Soto was MVP material. At this point, he's got to be the sure-fire bet to be the Rookie of the Year. Tonight, he went 3 for 5 with 2 doubles, a homer, and 7 RBI. He's now got 20 homeruns on the year and he's driven in 78. With a month to play, while I think he falls short of being the National League MVP, he is without a doubt one of a few Cubs who has been absolutely essential to their success so far.
The Cubs will gain a game on the Cardinals tonight, who are currently being torn to shreds by the Brewers, and they play for a road game sweep tomorrow. Oh, and one final thought for you before you go: so far in the second half, Chicago is 13-5 on the road, and they're 12-1 in their last 13. Just incredible.
Does anyone else think this has the makings of a let down game. Coming off a HUGE sweep of the Brewers the Cubs now face the Pirates, a team they have decimated. It seems to me that the Cubs could be looking past the Pirates and their next opponent, the Astros, and looking towards a big series against the Cardinals. - Goat Reader kcassidy
Hey, when you're right, you're right. After having beaten the Brewers to within an inch of their lives on the road, the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field yesterday only to see their resurgent offense shutdown by a young ex Yankee who had previously never done anything worth writing about.
While that is surprising, the real shocker of the game probably comes from Jason Marquis, who pitched 6 strong innings of 3-run baseball. He was complimented by Neal Cotts, Jeff Samardzija, and Carlos Marmol, who combined for 6 strikeouts in 3 innings of relief work - or 4 more strikeouts than what Marquis got his entire start.
Offensively, it was there, but it just wasn't clicking. The Cubs drew 7 walks, they managed 5 hits, but as a team they left 8 on base and were unable to deliver the killing blows. A week ago, that was par for the course and we would be very frustrated and nervous right now. Today, we are probably more apt to see it as a blip in an otherwise unstoppable offensive machine, and I for one expect retribution tonight against the Pirates.