We all know that Kevin Gregg has had a rough couple days. Do you want can cure that feeling? A nice blowout victory over the Reds today and everything will just fine.
Yes, Gregg's looked bad the last two days, but he's not going anywhere, according to Lou. I stand by comments that Gregg will be just fine in the closer role. He's been pretty solid up until his return to Florida. He's not the best in the world, but he is not the worst either.
In other news, the Cubs can pull back into a first place tie tonight with a win over Aaron Harang, who likes to give up HR's. In his last 12 starts, he has given up 14 HR's. This is just what the Cubs need after a tough start to the road trip.
The Cubs, or the rest of the NL Central, will not be facing Edison Volquez the rest of the seaon. He's went under the knife and is out for the next 12 months. That probably ends the Reds remote chances of making it to the playoffs this year.
Jake Fox - Can we play this man everyday? He's not caught Milton Bradley in HR's and passed him in RBI. In this last six games, Fox has two walks, three HR, and six RBI.
The Lefties - John Grabow and Sean Marshall have combined for 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Granted, Marshall did allow some runs to score that were charged to Carlos Marmol. Overall, it's not too bad.
Alfonso Soriano - Just when we thought he was really heating up, Sori's gone and got cold again. He's got 4 hits in his 23 at bats.
Kevin Gregg - The closer has an ERA of 8.00 since the All-Star break. We need to clean that up a little bit.
The Cubs could really use a sweep in this series, but they really need to focus on taking Game 1. I'm sure the Red would love to see Harang throw a good game, so they could trade him next week to somebody. I say the Cubs pound him, so the Reds are stuck with Dusty's latest pitcher he has run into the ground.
No number of expletives can justify how I feel after that series with the Marlins. The Cubs continue to find unique ways to break our hearts. That’s all I have to say regarding the incident yesterday.
Anyway, let’s focus on something that is sure to lift your spirits: the Cincinnati Reds.
I’ve heard the world “freefall” being used to describe the current situation Cincinnasty has been in for the last week, but I believe that is giving the Reds too much credit. Saying they are in a “freefall” implies that they were at some high point, but even when they were competing for the division lead the Reds were average at best. I believe “sinking” would be a better term…or unrestricted and unmitigated crapitude.
The last time the Cubs and Reds met was at Wrigley Field not long ago. The Cubs swept Dusty Baker’s squad and completed what now seems like a Mortal Kombat-esque fatality. I’m fairly sure I heard Lou Piniella yelling “FINISH HIM!” at some point during that series.
Although my knuckles have finally stopped bleeding enough so I can type after a punched a tree for several hours in the wake of the Savebot’s “pitching” performance, my anger still burns deep. By blood lust must be quenched. Bring on the matchups.
August 3rd – Randy Wells vs. Aaron Harang
In his last 12 starts, the Harangatang has gone 0-7 and hasn’t won a game since May 25. To be fair though, he hasn’t been getting much offensive support. In those seven losses, the Reds have only scored more than 2 runs twice. Still, Harang is getting shelled, especially by righties, who are hitting .309 against him.
Is there any starting pitcher who you have more confidence in right now than Randy Wells? On a pitching staff with so much talent, it amazes me that the guy who started the season in Iowa has become our most consistent performer. Wells needs to eat some innings in this game and give the bullpen a break – much like he did last week. If the Cubs go up big, is a complete game too much to ask for here? Probably, but if Wells does go the distance, I will finally buy his jersey. That’s a promise. Plus the pen is going to need some rest considering what is happening in the next game…
August 4th – Tom Gorzelanny vs. Johnny Cueto
Hey Johnny, you know that other young pitcher on the Reds named Edison Volquez? Looks like Doctor Dusty is recommending him for a little elbow surgery. Does this story sound familiar to you? If it does, then guess who’s next buddy. I love foreshadowing. In Cueto’s last four starts, he has giving up at least 9 hits. Not surprisingly, he didn’t win any of those games.
I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Gorzelanny hasn’t won a game as a starting pitcher since June 24…2008. The Gorz has pitched only in relief this season while in the Majors and has too small of a sample size to determine what will happen in this start. The Reds have hit lefties well (although not for power), so I expect to see lots of guys on base for Cincinnati. Lou might as well start warming up the bullpen now.
August 5th – Rich Harden vs. Justin Lehr
Lehr makes his second career start after walking seemingly everyone in his first game of the season. If control is his issue, then it should be a good night for the Cubs. Len and Bob have pointed it out several times throughout the season, but the more walks the Cubs get, the better the offense plays (side note: no sh!t idiots). If Lehr is going to give the Cubs free bases, who are they to say no. They don't want to be rude house guests after all.
Last week I mentioned that perhaps Rich Harden was a vampire. Well, I was wrong. He’s a friggin alien. Who is this guy pitching for the Cubs and what did they do with the real Rich Harden? Although he got a no decision in his last start, Rich did collect 11 strikeouts for the third time in his career. The Reds don’t strikeout much though, so Harden will need to keep the ball on the ground to be successful.
The matchups above are designed to analyze starting pitching and, to an extent, hitting. I’ve focused mainly on those two elements during most of the series previews that I’ve written. Clearly the bullpen was the focus in the last series though.
I expect the Cubs to hit and the starting matchups seem to favor the Cubs, but nothing is more important than the bullpen settling down and gaining some confidence. Right now I’d rather be given a prostate exam using a baseball bat than watch Gregg close out a game, but getting Savebot’s confidence back should be Lou’s primary focus. Cubs win two of three from the Reds.
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Their star lefty pitcher is also on the DL and will miss at least three weeks with knee surgery.
Their star slugging left fielder is batting .253 and got dropped 5 spots in the lineup this season.
Their star center fielder is worth perhaps a quarter of his 12-million-dollar-per-year contract.
Their star slugging right fielder is batting .248 and, four months into his first season, has already been the subject of trade rumors.
Their star slugging third baseman missed two months with a shoulder injury that will require surgery.
Their new second baseman? Couldn't hit lefties if somebody held them up for him.
Their ace setup man is as wild as a drunken Lindsay Lohan and as consistent as an amateur's souffle.
All of that, and, after a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago Cubs are the first place team in the NL Central. Go figure.
They did it this series by just beating the hell out of Reds pitchers. The Cubs collected 33 hits and 11 walks this series, including 15 extra bases (7 of which were homeruns).
The Cubs starters, meanwhile, all went 6 innings, all held the Reds down, and all benefited from good relief pitching -- the bane of the Cubs so far in 2009. In 9 innings of relief this series, Cubs relievers held the Reds to 8 hits, 3 walks, and 5 earned runs while striking out 9. (Okay, fine, so the bullpen bled runs, but only, it seems, when it didn't matter.)
Chicago now holds a half game lead in the Central, but they lead by 3 games in the loss column. They've knocked the Reds back to 7.5 games out of first (and 9 games under .500) and their next challenge is the 3rd place Astros, who are 50-48, 2.0 games out.
Current Record: 51-45
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, .5 games ahead of St. Louis
Magic Number: 65 (thanks to cubsmagicnumber.com)
Best Possible Record: 117-45
Worst Possible Record: 51-111
Record needed to win 110: 59-7
On Pace For: 86-76
Micah Owings (6-10, 5.33 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (6-6, 4.76 ERA)
The Cubs have won 9-of-12 and all of the sudden find themselves just a 1/2 game behind the Cardinals for the NL Central lead. It really is amazing when you really think about it some. We all know that this season has not been the easiest to watch, but the Cubs hung around and nobody put them away. The team still has a lot of flaws, but getting to first place would be a huge hurdle for the team this late in the season.
Yesterday, the Cubs offense broke out once again thanks to Aramis Ramirez, and Kevin Hart did what he had to do. With Ted Lilly on the DL, my guess is that Hart gets a couple more starts, unless Jim Hendry deals for a starter. Even if that doesn't seem likely at this point.
In other news, it looks like Milton Bradley isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I didn't think the trade was likely, and maybe Milton wanted to show something with his PH home run yesterday. The Cubs need him to start to hitting, because I can't imagine who they would get to replace him. There has been a lot of complaining about Milton, but he's still got a .377 OBP.
On the mound, Rich Harden has to pitch in a day game since Lilly was scratched from yesterday's start. After a rough start to July, which saw his ERA rise to 5.47 at one point, Rich has turned in two solid performances. A third one here, and the Cubs could go into next week in first place.
Aramis Ramirez - He only had one hit yesterday, but it was a big one. If he is truly back to form, the Cubs should be in good shape.
Alfonso Soriano - Don't look now, but Sori's average is above .250 for the first time since May 29th. He gets "crazy hot" sometimes, so lets ride it as long as it lasts. He's raised his average 28 points since July 4th, when he ended the day hitting .223.
Koyie Hill - Another 0-for-3 day dips Koyie below .200. You would think that Lou has to give Jake Fox one chance right?
The Cubs stumbled all year, but now is the time to strike. If Jim Hendry has anything up his sleeve, now is the time to pull it out. At worst, the Cubs need one more lefy in the pen to go along with Sean Marshall. It would be a great day to see the Cubs move into first place, and add something for the stretch run.
This game looked like it was going to be a complete and utter thrashing during the bottom of the first inning. The team had hit for the cycle within the inning, and the bases were loaded with one out for Koyie "Iron Man" Hill.
Stupidly, Koyie swung at the first pitch. Arguably, the rout was over.
Regardless, the Cubs continued to battle, and good pitching kept the Reds in check throughout the game. Nice win!
Fortunately for the Cubs, Kevin Hart was able to settle in after a mildly shaky top of the first. Hart's final line: 6 IP in 94 pitches, 5H, 1BB, 4SO, 1ER. Smashing!
The Other Stuff:
If not for the gutty performance from our starting pitcher, Alfonso Soriano might have to have been named the Player of the Game for today. The Fonz went 3-for-4, including a solo shot to deep left on a low breaking ball. I don't know what's gotten into him, but I am very much in favor of it. Whatever it is. (Common sense? Nah.)
Also adding on to the late Cub lead was Milton "The Rumors Are False!" Bradley (Note: despite rumors that stated otherwise, it appears that Milton will remain a Cub this season). It's encouraging to see him go deep every once in a while; he and Aramis Ramirez now have the same number of homers.
Also, speaking of A-Ram, Clutchy McClutcherson continued to rack up RBIs today, driving home two runs on a first inning homer. God, it's good to have him back.
The starting pitching and offense were solid, and for the most part, the bullpen was too. Aaron Heilman had a rare bad outing, serving up two jacks to Reds hitters before KG came in for the one out save. But Marmol struck out the side, and Guzman was super kewl.
Now let's sit back and enjoy the Phillies' drubbing of the Cardinals. Ladies and gentlemen, it appears as though tomorrow may present the Cubs with an opportunity to assume first place in the Division.
As in, OMGWTF?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Johnny Cueto (8-6, 3.67 ERA) vs. Kevin Hart (1-1, 2.30 ERA)
There is a lot of going on in the world of baseball that deals with the Cubs. First off, yesterday's win saw the offense break out a little bit, which is good news. They were able to score some insurance runs, but Lou still brought out Kevin Gregg, who does not do well in non-save situations.
In the bad news department, Ted Lilly will likely hit the DL today. We should know more later on, but hopefully it's just one or two starts. You have to wonder if Jim Hendry will go out and get somebody with all the injuries. There is no word on who might be called up at this point.
In other news, the new Cardinal Matt Holliday had four hits last night. I hate when stuff works out for the Cards, but I feel Jim will do something. This means the Cubs stay 1.5 games back of first. The Cubs did move closer to the Wild Card last night after the Giants beat the Rockies.
Aramis Ramirez - I didn't get to see any of the game yesterday, but it all sounded nice. Ramirez had four hits, three RBI, and one HR. This was Rameriz's first big came since coming off the DL, and we can only hope it continues.
Derrek Lee - I called out Lee yesterday, and he responded with a couple hits and his 19th HR.
Kosuke Fukudome - Two more hits for Fukudome and more importantly, two more runs for our new leadoff hitter.
There isn't much I can say here, because each of the Cub regulars had a hit. Plus, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker each reached base.
The Cubs have battled through a lot this season, but are still in the thick of the race. Now, they just have to find a way to keep winning. Today's matchup is probably the worst of the weekend, but hopefully Cueto pitches like he did against the Phillies a few weeks back.
Strangely, unlike any of the times Wood and Prior went down in '04, I'm not so worried about the loss of Lilly, be it for 2 weeks or 2 months. The Cubs have a deep rotation, and perhaps Ryan Dempster will return next week with more luck than he had before he went on the DL himself. Amusingly enough, by the time Dempster starts another game the Cubs may already be in first place.
Today's game was a happy reminder of what things were like when Aramis and Derrek were offensive forces for the Cubs. The two corner infielders combined to go 6 for 10 with 2 doubles, 2 homeruns, and 5 of the Cubs' 8 RBI. But their 6 hits made up just a portion of today's hit parade, as every Cub regular managed to collect at least 1 against Aaron Harang and the useless Reds bullpen.
As for the Cubs pitching, Randy Wells collected his 6th win of the season -- I am now convinced that he will easily be a 10 game winner, although Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ might have something to say about Randy's Rookie of the Year chances. Wells went 6 innings, surrendering 3 earned runs -- all off a homer in the 2nd -- while striking out 5. Behind him Aaron Heilman and Carlos Marmol pitched 2 hitless, walkless, scoreless innings in relief while Kevin Gregg coughed up 2 garbage runs in a 9th inning non-save situation.
The Reds at this point are proving to be a team without a chance of competing, which is really saying something in the shaky NL Central. These are the games the Cubs should win, just like the recent four game set in Washington.
The story line of the day does not deal with the Cubs, but with the Cardinals. It looks like the Red Birds have dealt for Matt Holliday. At least it wasn't for Roy Halladay, because that could have actually really hurt. The Cards are better with with Matt in the outfield, but their pitching staff is still craptastically the same.
The question remains, will Jim Hendry respond to this move by our rivals? Last year, he went out and got Rich Harden after the Brewers dealt for C.C. Sabathia. I'm not sure if the Cubs can do anything, but Jim has surprised us in the past.
As for the Cubs, they find themselves 1.5 games out of first coming into the weekend. The best part is that the Cubs are back at Wrigley, where they've played pretty well this season.
Randy Wells, who has been much more human of late, takes the hill for the Cubs. Last week, Randy was knocked around a little bit by the Nats, before the offense bailed him out. We all knew that Randy wouldn't be perfect all season, but he was good enough to get the win.
The Cubs are in an interesting spot in the standing. Even with how bad they have played at times, they are in the Wild Card and NL Central races. At the start of a series, I like to look at the last seven days, so time for our hot and not lists.
Alfonso Soriano - Finally he is showing a little life. He's 9-for-21 in his last five games played with a 1.216 OPS.
Kosuke Fukudome - He likes the top of the order, and I'm fine with him there. He's 9-for-22 with three walks. Four of those hits went for extra bases.
Derrek Lee - He's finally cooled off a little. In his last six, he's hit .208, but he does have 7 RBI.
Koyie Hill - He's been pretty rough since taking over the starting duties. He's 3-for-25 in the last six games. We knew what we were getting, but we need Geo back soon.
The Cubs need to take Game 1 to start the home stand off right. It also wouldn't hurt if Jim Hendry was working some phones.
Have you ever been in a relationship with somebody where, after it was all over, you just wanted to see your former partner ground into the dirt? It's not that you would ever go out and hunt him/her down, but you just want every bad possible thing to happen. You want him/her to get fired for looking at porn at work. Then you want his/her mother to be whisked off to rehab due to her raging alcoholism. Then you want him/her to lose their house and be forced to crash on a friend's couch. And the stress! You want him/her driven to perscription meds to overcome the building, unending swell of anxiety they feel -- and in the process you want your ex to gain about 100 pounds. Then, and only then, you want to run across that person. You want them to see you, looking great, your life moving in the right direction, even as he/she now weighs somewhere near 300 pounds, while sleeping on a couch, dealing with the trama of an alcoholic mother and the known history of beating meat on the company dime.
Wait -- you've never wanted that to happen to an ex? Me neither, but in baseball terms it's pretty close to how I feel about Dusty Baker. Never before had somebody promised so much and delivered so little. It's as if a con-man came to town, sold us our monorail, and skipped out of town with our money, our wives, and our hopes crushed by the looming shadow of that never-to-be-completed project.
Bitter? Me? Nah.
Still, if the Cubs fail to reach the playoffs I will feel a great consolation should they finish ahead of the Reds -- who themselves I pity for having great young players and pitching, all wasted on a manager who wouldn't know how to handle talent if given a step-by-step guidebook.
Friday, July 24th - Aaron Harang (5-10, 4.17 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (5-4, 3.00 ERA)
Ah, Randy Wells. Man of mystery. For the remainder of this year -- and surely into 2010 -- I'll be wondering if Wells is the real deal. If he is, despite his remarkable start he's still most likely to project as a #3 starter.
Aaron Harang, meanwhile, was the real deal for two seasons before Dusty got his hands on him. He was a two-time 16-game winner, who'd struck out 200+ in back-to-back years, before Dusty called on him to pitch in relief between starts last year. For the remainder of '07 Harang wasn't the same. So far this year, he's better than he was but not as good as he used to be. Teams are batting .292 against him -- up 50 points from two years ago.
Saturday, July 25th Ted Lilly (9-7, 3.59 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (8-6, 3.67 ERA)
Last year, Lilly was a top pitcher for the Cubs ... except when he faced the Reds. They owned him. Lilly was 0-4 with an 8.15 ERA in his 4 starts against him. The good news is that he's got a 0.00 ERA against the Reds so far this year ... (and an 0-1 record).
Cueto, one of Cincy's most promising pitchers, has seen his ERA rise from 2.69 to 3.67 this month.
Sunday, July 26th Kevin Hart (1-1, 2.30 ERA) vs. Micah Owing (6-10, 5.33 ERA)
Hart, like Wells, is unproven but with a good amount of promise. I could think of worse teams than the Reds for him to continue to hone his craft against.
Owing is another young and promising pitcher, although he's not showing a lot of it this year. Still, he's doing better than he did in '08, which is saying ...eh, something?
I may come back to add more later, but I'm out of time to write this. But I'll reiterate what I first said -- I really dislike Dusty Baker. I'm sure the Cubs will have their tough spots this series, but more than usual I'm rooting for a sweep. Besides, if the Cubs can manage one, they'll pretty much have single-handedly knocked the Reds out of competition, as Cincy is hanging on by a thread.
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Randy Wells -- who I now think looks more like Sam from True Blood than K-Fed -- delivered another strong performance. He went 6.2 innings, surrendering 2 runs off of 7 hits and 1 walk. And thanks to the offensive contributions of Ryan Theriot and Derrek Lee, he exited the game in the 7th with another shot at his first win.
Then, Carlos Marmol came in and walked the only 2 batters he faced. Wisely Lou yanked him immediately -- Piniella really needs to start getting stiff with Marmol -- and while Aaron Heilman managed to mostly get the Cubs out of a bases-loaded jam, he was unable to do it before allowing one run to be sac flied-in by ex-Ray Johnny Gomes. More on this play later. With that run went Randy's win, and so our troubles began.
Between the 9th and 14th innings, the Cubs had multiple opportunities to score. They left multiple runners on in all but the 12th inning. They made numerous bonehead plays, like when Theriot botched a hit-and-run with Blanco by striking out, resulting in a double play. In reality the Cubs sloppy offensive play contributed toward this simple conclusion: they did not deserve to win today.
This conclusion is supported by the sloppy defensive play too. In the 8th when the Reds tied it up, Reed Johnson failed to throw a caught ball to the right base resulting in a loss of a double play opportunity. It didn't directly come back to bite the Cubs on the ass but Reed's pointless attempt to gun out Nix at third is just one example of the defense not playing good, fundamental baseball.
Nevertheless, once Marmol was chased into the showers the bullpen did its job rather well. Gregg, Ascanio, Patton, and Guzman combined to give the Cubs six innings of scoreless ball. On a team in which the bullpen is one of the weakest points they delievered. They were able to keep the game tied until the Cubs offense woke up, exploding for 3 runs against the depleted Reds in the 14th. Soriano homered, Fontenot drove in Theriot, and Reed doubled in Fukudome. Just like that an excrutiating game turned into a late blow-out.
So, now the Cubs are in third place. They next travel to Houston to take on the hapless Astros who, despite their haplessness are almost as close to the Cubs as the Cubs are to the Brewers. Just some perspective for ya.
Current Record: 28-26
Position in the NL Central: 3rd place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 136-26
Worst Possible Record: 28-134
Record needed to win 110: 82-26
On Pace For: 84-78