Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Braves

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GameCast: June 4th - Cubs at Braves Rubber Match

GameCastCarlos Zambrano (3-2, 4.22 ERA) vs. Jair Jurrjens (5-2, 2.59 ERA) 
Story-lines

Rob may have been the one to point out how the '09 Cubs are looking an awful lot like the '04 model.  They've got so much talent it makes you sick but various problems coupled with burn-outs mixed with a healthy dose of insane antics makes for a team that's hard to cheer. 

Still, that doesn't have to be the story of the season.  It needn't even be the story of June.  But one thing that needs to change is how the team plays on the road.  So far this year the Cubs are 10-15 outside of Wrigley Field, almost a mirror image of their 16-10 home record.

First, though, they actually need to play this game.  Since there's a possibility of it being called due to rain before I hit "publish," this may be one of the make-up games the Cubs have later this season.  Still, on the assumption of baseball happening...

Who's Hot
The Gooz - He hasn't allowed a run since May 8th and he has turned into the most reliable pitcher out of the pen.  I'm happy to have apparently been wrong about him as I would have voted him off the island back in March.

D.Lee - A .381 AVG in the past week is nothing to scoff at.  Lee is still a ways away from being "on track" but at least now he's on pace to hit 22 homers, 33 doubles, and to drive in 77 RBI.  Wait -- 77 RBI?!  As he has only exclusively batted 3rd or 4th this season, I cannot emphasize how tremendously this can be used to example just how ridiculously bad the offense has been.  77 RBI.  Sheesh.

Kosuke Fukudome - Well, "hot" might be the wrong word for it.  More like "warm."  Fuku is batting .286 with an OBP of .353 in the past week.  He's slown down from his earth-shattering start, although I wouldn't scoff at his numbers.

Who's Not
T.Fonz - He's 5 for his last 28 with 9 strikeouts.  Fonzie is a hot-and-cold kind of player.  The only problem is that he's been exclusively cold for a while now.  Lou needs to think about sucking it up and dropping him in the lineup.

Geo Soto - Although Geo is indeed slumping, and may indeed lose some play-time to Three Finger if Hill earns it, Soto exited May with a .278 AVG, a .376 OBP, and a .730 OPS.  Not fantastic, although that puts him in the top 6 among catchers with as many-or-more at-bats as he had last month.  Just some levity for you.

Conclusions
Maybe I should create the Carlos Zambrano Meter of Diminished Expectations or something.  Probably not.  Still, I'd expect a win tonight if the game gets played. 

Game Recap: Cubs 3, Braves 2, an extra-inning nightmare

Game Recap
There was no moment more sickening last night than when the Braves spoiled a Ted Lilly's good performance by tying the game in the 7th.  Scratch that -- it got real sickening when it went to extra innings for the second straight night.

It's not that I lack faith in the Cubs' ability to win extra inning games.  No, my problem is more that the Cubs bullpen is built of balling wire and bubble gum right now and any game in which they are turned to excessively is a game that will be tough for the team to win.

Fortunately, the Cubs pulled out all the stops pitching-wise, turning to the Marmol-Guzman tandem for 3 straight innings.  Marmol in particular has been spotty, especially with his control, but he was balls-to-the-walls last night* and Guzman was his usual untouchable self.  I'm pretty sure that it was Goat Reader HarryCaray who proclaimed in Spring that Guzman would be important to the '09 team and so far he's been spot-on in that regard.

(*Disclaimer: I'm not actually sure what "balls-to-the-walls" means)

The only problem is that after the Cubs managed to snatch the lead in the 11th, thanks to a rare Hoffpauir-Lee tandem, Piniella turned to Kevin "Better Dead Than" Gregg for the save.  Surprisingly it was mission accomplished.  But I'll reiterate what I said yesterday evening... the Cubs need to re-assess their bullpen and Gregg needs a new role.  And if even Marmol can't handle the job, then at least the Cubs would know it and could add "closer" to their trade deadline wish list.

Incidentally, I wanted to note that Derrek Lee is now batting .263.  Hardly the stuff of legend but not bad for a washed up double play machine.  All told every Cub regular except Three Finger got at least one hit last night.  The Cubs need to better capitalize on their success at getting on and play for the series win tonight.

UPDATE FROM Yarbage: So, for the second straight night I made my way to the "Ted", only to see an extra inning game. I could really use a blowout tonight, but I doubt we'll get it with the pitching match up.

There were a few things that caught my eye last night from the stands. First off, the Cubs should really hold a bunting practice all day today. I'm not a fan of giving up outs, but if Lou's going to keep sending up people to bunt, they have to get it down. My buddy, Scott Lange, couldn't even watch when Ryan Theriot tried to lay down a bunt late in the game.

I never saw the replay, but it was nice to see Geovanny Soto throw out somebody. At this point, we'll take anything.

Finally, I hope the Braves get some bad luck tonight after cutting Tom Glavine to avoid a roster bonus. The players and fans had no clue that it had happened. We found out from somebody that got to the game about the second inning. I understand that Tommy Hanson is going to be a star, but you just don't treat players that way. If you were going to cut him, then why have him go through all that rehab?

If the rain holds off, I will add something for the game later.

GameCast: June 3rd - Cubs at Atlanta (aw, crap)

GameCastTed Lilly (6-4, 3.50 ERA vs. Derek Lowe (6-3, 3.49 ERA)
Story-Lines
Oops.  I guess I got distracted plotting Cubs 101 stories from now until October.  My bad (at least my forgetfulness occurred in service of the blog).

After suffering yesterday's heartbreaking loss, the Cubs take on the Braves again without the apparently overwhelming pressure of delivering Randy Wells his first big league win. 

As Rob bravely noted earlier, this Cubs team needs to stop screwing around or else risk being mediocre all year long.  The only problem is that, for a bunch of reasons we haven't seen the real Cubs yet.  They've either all been slumping, or battling various injuries, or turning to ridiculously bad relief pitchers who waste uniform fabric. 

I will note that, as of this belated writing, the Cubs offense has enjoyed the first strike thanks to a Fontenot double.  But until Lou really shakes up his bullpen a 2 run lead means nothing.

Who's Hot
Mike Fontenot, Derrek Lee, Reed Johnson - the Cubs offense has been a lot of hit and miss all year long, but lately they've mostly been hit.  That hasn't guaranteed victory by any stretch though on account of the "who's not" category.

Who's Not
Geovany Soto, Kevin Gregg, Aaron Heilman - Soto will be sitting for a little while which will be fine with some people (Rob in particular).  Three Finger Hill has been pretty effective in limited play anyway.  Gregg and Heilman, meanwhile, appear to have caught whatever it was that had infected Neal Cotts.  They need to be used differently or -- dare I say it -- outright cut.

Conclusions
With Lilly on the mound, and having scored first, the Cubs should have a decent shot at winning.  But for the time being no lead is safe.  It's way too early too call the season over or anything, but it's also way too early to really believe in this team.  They've got a lot to prove.

Game Recap: Cubs 5, Braves 6 -- Come on, dude.

Cubs lose
I had something ready to go for the Shout Box after the 6th inning. I was about to say, "Apologies for the jinx, but we should win every game in which we have a lead of more than 3 runs thru 6."

I didn't say it, because I didn't think you could apologize a jinx away. As it turns out, the Cubs didn't need my help in giving this one away.

You know what? We damn well SHOULD win every one of those games. We have guys in the 'pen capable of getting six outs when working with that sort of margin.

We got EVERYTHING we could ask for from this team: seven strong innings from our young starter Randy Wells (he's ACES, isn't he?); home runs from two of our veterans; five runs total from our occasionally inept, consistently inconsistent offense.


We got EVERYTHING--except six outs from a 'pen given a five-run lead.

Whether Marmol stays in the set-up role and Gregg keeps closing, or Lou changes the order in which they're brought out, the fact is, we're going to need BOTH Marmol AND Gregg  to pitch a heckuvalot better in the near future if this team's gonna start winning consistently at any point.

Unfortunately for tonight, the result looks like another variation on a common theme from the 2009 season thus far.

Just a few weeks ago, the offense was the problem. So of course it makes sense that, just as the bats start to look like they're getting hot (aside from Soto, who had his bat taken out of his hands at a pivotal point in the game), this happens.

Oh yeah, and "Don't Wake Daddy" (so named because he'll probably pull something if you startle him) strained his calf running out a grounder.

I guess we should try to end on a positive note. Umm... Randy Wells is awesome? Seriously, Wells just keeps rolling. He deserves a ton of credit for giving this team a chance to win each night he's started. I look forward to his next start. Let's get him an effing win sometime soon, huh?


...Go Cubs?

Guh.


GameCast: June 2nd - Cubs at Atlanta

GameCastRandy Wells (0-2, 1.80 ERA) vs. Kenshin Kawakami (3-6, 4.73 ERA)

It seems it was only yesterday that the Braves were the bitter nemesis of the Cubs.  Not that there was a long-heated rivalry or anything, but it really burned our asses to watch a Greg Maddux in his prime square off against the Cubs and often own them.  These days that bottom-burning has passed, although this series remains a fairly important one with some implications. 

Story-lines
Two .500ish teams at a cross-roads, vying for control of their own destinies and the chance to seize a playoff spot in the near future.  The only problem is that they are headed in opposite directions (at least in theory).  After slipping, stumbling, and eventually being held down and beaten, the Cubs have managed to rise up and win 4 out of their last 6.  Meanwhile the Braves have lost 5 out of their last 7.  I'm sure Cub fans everywhere are pulling for Atlanta to continue the downward spiral, although the bad news is that they took their beating on the road.  They may be a different -- and harder to defeat -- team at Turner Field.

This marks the 5th start this season for Randy Wells.  Project his numbers to a full 32 starts and we'd be looking at 200 innings pitched, 176 hits surrendered, 56 walks allowed, 184 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.80, and a record of 0-16.  Surely something must change.

Considering how poorly Sean Marshall did his last outing, and how quick things can change on the grand stage of Major League Baseball, then it seems likely -- nay, inevitable -- that a continuously successful Wells may usurp Sean for the 5th starter's spot once Rich Harden returns.  This probably wouldn't be the worst thing in the world since the Cubs currently have 0 reliable lefty relievers in the bullpen, but it's still a little premature to assume that it will happen. 

Who's Hot
Reed Johnson - in the past week he's 8 for 15 with 2 homeruns and 6 RBI.  He's gone from a cold backup outfielder to being so hot the Cubs may scramble to find a position for him in the immediate future.

Mike Fontenot - yes, it's true.  Lil' Babe Ruth is batting 6 for his last 18, or .333 with an OPS of .924.  He's not out of the woods yet but it's not too late for Fontenot to have himself a respectable season with the Cubs.

Ryan Theriot - Joining Johnson in the .500 club, Theriot has gone 8 for his last 16 although he's in a homerless spell.  The powerful shortstop has had something like 56 at bats since his last homerun.  Seems to me that he's overdue.

Milton Bradley - 6 for his last 15, Bradley is another guy batting .400 with an impressive 1.060 OPS.  If he's finally gotten comfortable then the Cubs offense is going to really heat up in the month of June.

Jake Fox - I'd be lax if I failed to mention that the newest former Iowan is 3 for his first 7 with a double and an RBI.  It would be refreshing if he actually played at a high level all year long.

Who's Not
Alfonso Soriano - If it's true that the Fonz can single-handedly win baseball games with his bat, then it must also be true that, as a lead-off hitter, he can suck the life right out of a team if he's cold.  Soriano is 5 for 25 with 9 strikeouts in his last 6 games.

Bobby Scales! - Et tu, Bobby?  Scales started out by making up for lost time upon his first call-up to the majors, but he's already showing signs of struggle.  In the past week he's a .182 hitter, even though 1 of his 2 hits was a homer.

Conclusion
Realistically, Wells is not a 1.80 ERA pitcher, but he's also overdue to win.  Kawakami, meanwhile, is mediocre at best.  Considering the Cubs have been playing well and the Braves have been mehdiocre lately, this is an ideal time for Randy to win. 

So, in the venacular of the South ... git 'er done! 

Series Preview - Chicago Cubs vs Atlanta Braves

Series Preview
Match-Ups
Overview

The Braves come into today's action sporting a pathetic .500 record.  LAME.  If only they knew what it was like to be one game above .500.  If only they could soar as we have.  Feel the wind in their hair. 

But alas, of their starting outfielders, not one has an OPS above .652.  That makes for a rough time.  The Braves for 10th in runs scored and, conveniently enough, 10th in runs allowed.  The Cubs, on the other hand, are...oh.  They're 11th in runs scored.  But hey, they have a chance to jump a spot.  They'll just use their 6th ranked pitching to hold the Braves down and beat on them with their consistently warming bats!

Speaking of consistently warming, a few positive trends.  Over the last week...

  • Bradley is hitting .400 with a 1.060 OPS.
  • Fontenot is hitting .333 with a .927 OPS
  • Theriot?  .500 with a 1.056 OPS

In other conveniently select sample sizes, Lee hit .313 with a .955 OPS in the month of May,  Angel Guzman had a 1.64 ERA in May, and Dempster had a 3.76 ERA. 

In June, expect even more superlatives.  This team is the team to beat and eventually their luck has to even out and things have to start looking up.  They're the best team in the Central.  Now they just have to show it.

The Matchups

Tuesday, June 2 - Kenshin Kawakami vs. Randy Wells

According to mlb.com, Kawakami has a flat fastball and had poor control, so he focused on throwing first pitch strikes in his last outing.  And mlb.com also says that an aggressive team could take advantage of this.

I wonder if the Cubs read mlb.com?

Randy Wells has yet to struggle in the big leagues, with the possible exception of the first two innings of his last start.  His strikeout rate has been solid and his control excellent. 

Oh yeah, and he hasn't gotten a win yet.  Sad days for K-Fed.

Wednesday, June 3rd - Ted Lilly vs. Derek Lowe

Lilly was, yet again, excellent in his last start.  He did yell any umps, he didn't beat the Gatorade, and he didn't allow more that one run.  These are all key ingredients to a win. 

Lowe has pitched at least seven innings in his last sevens starts and has one fewer than seven wins on the season.  Lowe also has seven fingers and sevens toes* and the first two numbers of his ERA add up to seven.  When the apocalypse comes down, you might want to hang by this guy.

(* maybe not actually be true)


Thurday, June 4th - Carlos Zambrano vs. Jair Jurrjens


As usual, Carlos grabs the series' marquis matchup, taking on the man with the funky name.  Carlos is just coming off a suspension (went fast, didn't it.  Did you even notice?) and, wouldn't you know it, lands the guy with the 5-2 record and 2.59 ERA. 

Is Jair Jurrjens the best kept secret in the NL?  Did I spell his name correctly?  And how the hell am I supposed to say that name?  Answer to all these questions, and more, when we return.

Okay, we're back.  I still don't have any answers.

Sorry.

Conclusion

Concluded.

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Game Recap: Cubs 3, Braves 2, Kurt Moderately Sad

Although I wrote about a hundred letters of protest, the Cubs ignored my pleas and pitched Carlos Zambrano today against Tim Hudson. The move didn't backfire, per se, as the Big Moosey went 7 strong innings, but he failed to get the decision due to Chicago's inability to score runs without Alfonso Soriano. (Just kidding, we all know the Cubs can score runs without Soriano. No, seriously, I'm not being sarcastic. You're just reading it that way for no reason. Knock it off, the Cubs are good. Seriously.)

Actually, the tale of the tape revolves around the continued offensive contribution of the Willie Mays of our generation, Jim Edmonds. (Yes, now I'm being sarcastic.) Edmonds scored the first Cubs run of the game in the 7th after sacrificing a fly ball in order for A-Ram to score from third, and he tied the game Moy Clutch style in the 9th with a massive, Waveland-busting homerun that actually was probably much shorter than that, but I was stuck at work so I didn't see it.

The Cubs pitching then kept the team in it until the 11th, when Reed Johnson took a clutch hit pitch to his body, allowing Aramis Ramirez to score the winning run. That's two times Ramirez scored this game off of 0 hits. It's probably not as rare as you might think, but it's still got to be a little unusual.

The bullpen was outstanding, relieving Zambrano in the 8th and pitching 4 scoreless innings in which they allowed 3 hits, 3 walks, and struck out 9 batters. Not bad. Kerry Wood in particular was outstanding - he went 2 innings, struck out 4, and secured his 3rd victory of the year while knocking his ERA down to 2.48.

Series Recap: This has to be the costliest sweep in recent memory. The Cubs beat the Braves in only the manner an invincible home team can pound on a visiting squad totally unable to win outside their home park, and yet all we'll remember a month from now will be that Alfonso Soriano suffered a crushing injury - no pun intended - in this series.

And yet, as the Cubs begin their toughest stretch of the season without an offensive impact at leadoff, they have now won 4 games in a row, they are 19 games over .500, and they have the best record in all of baseball. As they prepare for this rough stretch, I am comforted by this thought - they're a damned good team even without Soriano, and if they are still in first place on July 8th, then they will have to be the hands-down favorite to win not only the division, but the league.

Current Record: 43-24
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 3 games ahead of St. Louis
On Pace For: 104-58
Record needed to win 120: 77-18

Game Recap: Cubs 7, Braves 2 - a victory that feels like a defeat

W

Cubs fans all went a little crazy last night, as Alfonso Soriano suffered a broken hand in the 2nd inning. Soriano broke the fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand. Sound familiar? It might - something very similar to that happened in the early Spring of 1993 to a Cubs superstar. The only difference is that Ryne Sandberg broke the fifth metacarpal.

Now, if Soriano's injury projects the same as Sandberg's - and Ryno missed about six weeks - then, when he returns, he will have lost some grip on his bat and some power from his stroke. Ryno only hit 9 homeruns in 1993. But, since I'm trying to look on the bright side here, I'll just say that when the Fonz returns, he'll have motivation to change his game a little and play more like a true leadoff - less power, more speed. But, anyway, enough about the depressing injury to a Cubs star. Let's talk about the positives.

The Cubs offense continues to pour it on - and make no mistake, this is not an offense dependant on any one player who is now out for 6 weeks due to a broken hand. Chicago scored 7 runs across the first 3 innings last night, due in part to another Fukudome 3 run homerun, a Theriot 2 run double, and an Edmonds 2 run single. The Soriano-less Cubs drew 4 walks, knocked 10 hits, and chased emergency Atlanta starter (and asshole) Jeff Bennett in the 2nd.

But perhaps the true positive of last night is the performance of Ryan Dempster. On a team with an overtaxed bullpen - despite there being 13 pitchers* - the performance Dempster gave last night was huge. He went the distance on 119 pitches, striking out 11 and walking none. Not bad. Carlos is one meltdown away from temporarily losing his Ace status to Clownsevelt.

(*And unlike the days when Dusty Baker had 12 or 13 pitchers, Lou Piniella actually uses them all. Back in Dusty's day, he'd have the 7th reliever sitting out there in the bullpen for 8 days at a time before he'd remember to call the guy in to pitch games.)

Even Chipper "Hayseed" Jones only knocked one hit against Dempster. (Cue photoshop):

Hayseed

Things to Come

Lastly, let's talk a little more about what's going to happen over the next six weeks. Colin has already done us well with an in-depth look at the Replacement Level Players who'll be stepping in for Soriano in the immediate future. Meanwhile, all those Cub fans who I mentioned as having gone crazy have begun tossing out all sorts of names to replace the Fonz on the short term. Those names include ...

Sammy Sosa (but mostly only in jest) - Old, still able to produce, hasn't been a clubhouse cancer since '04, but entirely wrong for this Cubs team

Barry Bonds - Old, still wants to play, might be willing to come back although his ego may demand a salary larger than the Cubs should be willing to pay. And, what should they be willing to pay, you ask? Zero. Screw Bonds, he's an even bigger cancer than Sosa.

Kenny Lofton - Old, still wants to play, bats leadoff. Actually, Lofton is my favorite choice. If he has anything left in the tank, then he might be ideal as he would easily slide into the leadoff position and steal some bases. I'll be advocating heavily for Lofton, especially if Hoff/Murton/Whomever fails to produce and the Cubs begin to spiral into mediocrity.

And will the Cubs spiral into mediocrity without their big bat? To be honest, I really don't think so. This is a far more complete team than Cubs of the past, and while Alfonso's bat will surely be missed, the Cubs have won plenty of games where he did nothing for them. They may lose a handful of close games without him, but they should still win.

At least, that's the way I'm going to look at it. Feel free to mock me from your foothold in reality, but I assure you I'm much happier over here in fantasyland.

Game Recap: Cubs 10, Braves 5

Dubya

Although they worked hard to make it interesting, the Cubs sure didn't look like they were sweating it tonight as they beat the Braves as if Atlanta owed them money.

I'd hardly say that they are out of their slumps, but both D.Lee and G.Soto contributed hugely to the Cubs tonight, as they were responsible for 5 Chicago runs tonight. Derrek accomplished his 2 RBI tally through a solo homerun in the 3rd and a sacrifice fly in the 8th, and Geo Soto managed 2 hits including the 3-run shot that sealed the deal for the Cubs in the 8th after Atlanta had come within 1 run.

The Rage v. Age Duel proved to be less a duel and more a demolition of Glavine. Old Tom couldn't get out of the 4th inning, having strained his elbow after surrendering 6 hits and 4 walks to 0 strikeouts. Ted Lilly, meanwhile, started off rocky by allowing a three-run homer in the 1st, but he then proceeded to buckle down and pitch into the 7th, leaving the game after 6.2 innings and 98 pitches. He struck out 8, he walked 3, and the Cubs looked to be comfortably in the lead until Bob Howry did his best to give Atlanta another shot at victory, as Atlanta was losing 6-5 in the 8th inning.

Thankfully, Kerry Wood avoided making yet another appearance after the Cubs exploded for 4 more runs in the bottom of the 8th, allowing Lou to turn to Jon Lieber in the 9th.

The Cubs are always capable of scoring a lot of runs, but after a series of ineptitude in Los Angeles, I was particularly hopeful that they would be able to score big against the Braves tonight. They were able to deliver, and not even Bobby "Crypt-keeper" Cox could wrangle a win for the Braves tonight. Yes folks, that's a cheesy lead-up to a photoshop:

Bobby Cox

One other note: based on Byron's poll, most of us would be satisfied this month should the Cubs win 14 games all month long. At this point, to accomplish that feat, Chicago will need to go 8-10 the rest of the month. In fact, I'm confident in saying that if the Cubs go 8-10 the rest of this month, at this stage, Cub fans will be singing Doom and Gloom.

On the off chance it happens, let's just try to maintain some perspective, 'kay? 14 wins in this, the toughest month on the schedule, would not be the end of the world. Far from it, 14 wins in June would probably be enough to extend the team's lead on the Deadbirds. I'm just saying.

Series Preview: Braves at Chicago

Y'know, sometimes blogging can be a chore. It's tough spending what can amount to hours a day every single day writing for free, even if it's on a subject you love. That is why it is easy to find the innumerable carcasses of dead blogs anywhere you look, and I'll be completely honest - sometimes I just don't feel like writing. Sometimes I feel like it's pointless - if GROTA turned to dust tomorrow and faded away, there'd be a dozen other Cubs sites you could visit to get your fix and you'd probably forget all about us fairly quickly. Sometimes, it's hard to be a blogger.

Today is not one of those times.

I spent a weekend away from the Cubs, and I'm now hungry and ready for tonight's start of the Braves vs. Cubs series. The last one, against the Dodgers, was not pretty. The Cubs offense struggled and they only managed to split their four games with Los Angeles. Looking quickly at the team, I can't help but notice a few trends that I don't love. Like:

  • Derrek Lee, who was batting .360 as of May 1st, is now batting .284. Point of fact, D-Lee batted .234 for the entire month of May, and he's batting .185 a week into June.
  • Kosuke Fukudome was batting .350 as of May 1st. He is now batting .292, primarily because he's batting .136 this month.
  • Geovany Soto was batting .330 on May 1st. In May, he batted .271. So far this June, he's batting .091. Ouch. Ugly.
  • Ted Lilly, who went 4-0 in the month of May, also had a 4.72 ERA that month. Not what you want from your assumed #2 pitcher.

Despite all of that, the Cubs went 18-10 last month.

After going 4-3 on their most recent road trip, the Cubs have landed home for a 3-game series against the Braves. They then will travel onward to Toronto (where I will watch a couple of games) and Tampa (which will turn out to be an unlikely World Series Preview. Remember, you read it here first). All that said, onward to the pitching match-ups.

The Pitching Match-ups:

Tuesday, June 10th Theodore Roosevelt Lilly vs. Thomas Jefferson Glavine - Rage vs. Age

Ted Lilly still has a long way to go this year before he calms my concerns about his performance. (That's about as obvious a statement as, it's warm in summertime.) Lilly's numbers this year have been unimpressive - 5-5, 5.23 ERA, and he's only on pace for 182 innings pitched as a starter. All of these things are fine and good ... if you're the #4 guy in a rotation. Lilly, however, began the year as a presumptive #2, and he's been pitching like Number Two ever since. But don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to rail against the guy. I like Lilly, and I believe that he'll get his ERA close to 4 before the end of the season. I just don't think he's the kind of pitcher I'd count on in a short series in October. Sound familiar? It should - I say it every time I talk about the guy, and I'll keep saying it until he gives me a reason not to.

For the record, I don't think that Glavine's actually named "Thomas Jefferson." I was just going with the presidential thing because of Lilly. I appreciate Glavine. Being the Hall of Fame homer that I am, in the past I have tossed out the idea of the Cubs signing Glavine and Maddux to help get the team to the Series. Like my five-year relationship with Charlize Theron, that was never reality, though. Besides, Glavine has been pitching like an old man this year, and I think I'd rather have Lilly. All that said, in the past three years Glavine has been ineffective-at-best against the Cubs - 2-2, 5.12 ERA - and I have high hopes that the slumping Cubs offense will tee off on Tommy G. like it's the Home Run Derby at the All Star Game.

Wednesday, June 11th Ryan Clownsevelt Dempster vs. Jair "Funniest Name in Baseball" Jurrjens

Dempster remains a pleasant, happy, wonderful surprise. I don't think I expected him to win 7 games all year long, so for him to be the most successful pitcher in the rotation through early June is a shocker. I have to believe that he will eventually come back down to earth, but this is a contract year and Dempster just might surprise us all with the best season of his career.

Jair Jurrjens. 22-years-old. Born in Curacao. Jair Jurrjens. ::snicker::

Thursday, June 12th Sean Gallagher (I hope) vs. Tim Hudson

Sean Gallagher needs to start this game. He needs to. Why? Because, if he does, then Carlos will pitch on Friday in Toronto. I haven't seen Carlos pitch since last August, in a rain-shortened game against the Cardinals that did not count in the standings. Before that, I saw the Big Moose pitch against Houston in '03 in a huge game that, if you look at it from a certain perspective, put the Cubs in the playoffs that year. Anyway, there was a nice article about Gallagher in the Trib recently, in which it was noted that Sean has played well, is earning the respect of his teammates, and may be in the rotation for some time to come. Who better to beat Tim Hudson, then, besides the great Sean Gallagher?

Hudson, meanwhile, is pretty much the last arm standing from the great Oakland Trio of years passed. Mark Mulder is a smoldering pile of turds, and Barry Zito has gotten so efficient at sucking that he could probably get a golfball through a garden hose. Hudson, meanwhile, has been a stable, reliable arm for the Braves, and he will almost certainly lead them in wins this year. However, the Cubs could and should beat him without having to match him up with Carlos. You hear that, Hendry? You don't need Carlos to win this game!!!

Predictions:

The Cubs have dominated at home, while the Braves are underwhelming at best - especially without the incredible Chipper Jones, who may miss the entire series. Atlanta is a ridiculous 7-21 on the road, the Cubs are a ridiculous 26-8 at home, and it should be a highly entertaining series to watch. One point of concern is that the Cubs offense has been slumbering as of late, but let's not forget that 1) they were batting in two pitchers parks on the west coast and 2) four of those offensively atrocious games were against the Dodgers, whose pitchers seem to own our hitters. While the Cubs will be facing the heart of Atlanta's rotation this series, I have a feeling that their offensive struggles will soon be over.

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