We here at GROTA have spent a lot of words trying to convince the reader that the regular season is just that. The Cubs don't look good now, sure, but if they can just figure out a way to slink into the playoffs, etc. etc.
Tonight's game had every bit of a playoff atmosphere. We got an outstanding performance from one of our extremely talented starting pitchers (who apparently is way better at night on the road than at home during the day? Whatever.). The bullpen did its job as well, shutting down one of the best offenses in the sport for a really, really long time. And it all happened on the road, in front of a hostile crowd, against one of the best teams in the league.
But once again, a common theme from this season reared it's ugly head.
The offense failed.
Based on their performance tonight, I think we can safely say that the Cubs' pitchers can hold their own against damn near anybody. They got through the likes of Utley, Howard, and Ibanez over and over throughout the night.
But the offense just didn't look good. Maybe I'm overreacting (actually that's a near certainty) and maybe I don't really know what I'm talking about (another near certainty). But this offense didn't seem to have hard hit balls find gloves for outs. It's not that their bloops hung too long, or their long balls just missed.
At-bat after at-bat, ESPECIALLY in the late innings, they simply looked inept. Dribblers slowly died in the infield; hackers swung at crap well off the plate. Were
there really any fly balls to speak of after Blanton left? Like, at all?
To me, this was the best look at how the Cubs would respond to a playoff game we've seen all season. And as one might expect, the pitchers performed, and the hitters simply didn't figure it out.
Of course, there's plenty of time left for these guys to figure it out. For example, I have NO idea what Reed was doing in the leadoff spot. Or, I think it really hurts to have Jake Fox essentially stuck sitting on his ass because Soto is out. And, it sucks having to deal with Koyie Hill's essentially automatic outs every few innings. And then there's the whole Milton Bradley thing.
Is there hope yet? Sure. But it's gonna take a lot to convince this Goat that the Cubs are ready to win in October.
Ok, Game 1 didn't quite work out how the Cubs wanted. Ted Lilly looked like he was throwing batting practice, and the Cubs offense went back into hibernation.
None the less, the Cubs did not lose any ground last night on their main rivals. The Cardinals, Brewers, and Giants all found ways to lose. The Brewers even got into a little spat with the Pirates over beaning players.
The Cubs did not do much of anything right last night, so lets not harp on the negative all over again. The key to the next two games is starting pitching. Rich Harden, who is now pitching in mostly night games, will take the mound after another strong start against Washington.
Harden's problems come when he gets his ball up in the zone. On the other side, Joe Blanton will toe the rubber for the Phillies. On paper the match up looks great, but the Cubs only look good on paper lately.
Alfonso Soriano - The move down the order has done something, who cares why. He picked up three hits last night, even if they were all singles. Now, if people could get on base in front of him.
Ryan Theriot - The Riot picked up the lone RBI last night, and walked twice. He might not be flashy, but he gets the job down.
Aramis Ramirez - I sure dislocating a shoulder hurts a lot, and playing baseball doesn't help. Even so, he went 0-for-3 last night. I'm sure he will bounce back, but he's going to have to prove he can hit to help Derrek Lee in the lineup.
Koyie Hill - Our backup catcher went 0-for-4 to drop his average to .204. I wonder if Lou will gamble and play Fox behind the plate at least once? Or will the Cubs pick up someone else to get some starts? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Cubs need a win. The fans need something to feel good about, because I'm sick of all the "sky is falling" attitudes many fans have taken to this season. It is clear to see this season isn't as picture perfect as last season. So, lets go ahead and deal with it and give our support to our team.
Ted Lilly did not pitch well. He gave up home runs with men on base, as well as many hits overall.
On the positive side, the bullpen did pitch well. Jeff Stevens, Aaron Heilman, and Angel Guzman allowed one hit (a Ryan Howard solo shot) and no walks over the last four innings of the game.
Now, back to the negatives.
The offense sucked. They had six hits. Half of those were collected by Alfonso Soriano. The other three were doubles by Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot, and pinch-hitter Andres Blanco.
That means our 3, 4, and 5-hitters all posted oh-fers. The same goes for the 7 and 8 spots (Font and Hill) as well.
So, yeah. Not a good game. My consolation for you this morning? Remember this--just as 11-3 drubbings of the lowly Nationals count as one win, 10-1 beatdowns at the hands of the Phillies only count as one loss. If it were 10-9, or 1-0, a loss is a loss.
Let's try calling this one a bad night and see where it gets us for the rest of the series.
Ah yes. A 10-run drubbing, also known as "the reason dopey Cub fans feel vindicated for doubting." You know, I know, even the Phillies know that, more often than not, Ted Lilly's not going to get his ass kicked the way he did last night, not by the Phillies nor by anybody else.
Still, Philadelphia has a scary offense. Actually, though, I think their pitching is overrated -- at least by Kyle, who complimented them in his Series Preview. If they weren't desperate for arms, they wouldn't have sprung for Pedro.
Anyway, as a fan I'd almost rather get blown out than see the team lose a close one. Last night wasn't really painful -- it was comical. A loss tonight, however, would be painful. So, memo to the Cubs: don't lose.
Ted Lilly (9-6, 3.18 ERA) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (1-0, 3.18 ERA)
I picked a great time to see the Cubs play this year. After a so-so first half, the Cubs did what they had to do by sweeping away the lowly Washington Nationals. Trust me, the Cubs were not perfect, but they did enough to win each night. The only night were there really was any doubt was Saturday night, but the Cubs were able to wait out Jordan Zimmermann and pick up the victory.
I saw a few things over the weekend that interested me. First off, Alfonso Soriano actually looked pretty good at times at the plate. We all know that he hit two big home runs, but he had a few other at bats that he really worked some counts. I'm not saying he's back, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
I'm pretty sure that Jake Fox shouldn't be a full-time 3B. I love his bat, but he still needs serious work with the glove after Sunday's showing.
On the flip side, many of the Cub regulars started to show signs of hitting. (Except Milton Bradley). Also, for the first time, I felt pretty good about the bullpen all season. Kevin Gregg is not flashy, but all of the sudden his ERA is respectable and he's getting people out.
The biggest question make is how will the Cubs fair against a better foe? The Phillies are red hot right now, and they have quality hitting and pitching. The Cardinals are facing the Astros, who are right at .500 as well. This series is a chance for the Cubs to prove they are heading in the right direction by winning 2 of 3. Tonight would be a great chance to take a game with Rodrigo Lopez on the mound. No wonder they want make deals for starters.
Mike Fontenot - Mike went 6-for-12 with two doubles and a HR in the Nationals series. He may not hit .300, but if he can hit .275 it would help out.
Kosuke Fukudome - This is one player I can't figure out, but he did have six hits and three walks in his last four games. Maybe his teacher can help him keep it up.
Aramis Ramirez - He did hit his first home run since coming off the DL, but he was 2-for-11 in the series.
Koyie Hill - He's not going to do much at the plate, and we should be ok with that. He was 3-for-15 over the weekend.
The Cubs are within striking distance, but we've been saying that all season. It would be nice to see them take 2-of-3, but to do they they really need to win game one. My buddy told me to stay on the road with the team until they lost, but I had to come back to grad school. Hopefully, they will continue on the hot streak without me.
The Cubs really could not have asked for a better way to start the back half of the season. I mean, think about it. A four-game sweep of a terrible team on the road, the starting pitching looked decent for the most part, the Savebot was able to get five crucial outs in a row, Alfonso Soriano might be getting ready to go on a tear, Aramis Ramirez flashed some power. All is well.
Until tonight of course.
The Cubs roll into Philadelphia to take on the Phillies who are the winners of eight straight…ruh roh Rhaggy.
Say what you will about the Nationals series, but these next three games are far more important in terms of determining what kind of team the Cubs will be in the second half of the season.
Unfortunately that match-ups are not in their favor…
Monday, July 20th - Ted Lilly vs. Rodrigo Lopez
What makes me most uncomfortable about this game is not who the Cubs are facing, but rather who they are sending to the mound. An All-Star pitcher you say? Maybe half an All-star.
Although Lilly is nearly unbeatable at Wrigley Field (6-1, 1.86 ERA) he remains very mundane on the road (3-5, 4.66 ERA). The fact that he missed a start due to an injury no reason to get excited either.
The saving grace of this game is Lopez, who is the weakest link of all the Phillies starting pitchers. Although Lopez will most likely be replaced by Pedro Martinez in a few weeks, he could be dangerous since he is pitching for…you know…his job.
Tuesday, July 21st - Rich Harden vs. Joe Blanton
The good news: Rich Harden is 4-1 on the road with a 2.17 ERA. The bad news: Lefties are doing some damage to Harden. And guess who bats lefty for the Phillies? That’s right, Ryan Howard, Chase Utely, Raul Ibanez, and Jimmy Rollins. Great.
Blanton doesn’t have a particularly impressive record (6-4) or ERA (4.44) this season, but he leads the Phillies in quality starts (10). Blanton doesn’t appear to pitch better on the road or at home nor is he significantly more dominant against lefties or righties. He also doesn't appear to possess a neck -- my theory is that he ate it. He does, however, give up a lot of home runs (19), especially to right-handed hitters (11). Maybe A-Ram, D-Lee, and/or Soriano could have a big night.
Wednesday, July 22nd - Carlos Zambrano vs. Jamie Moyer
Pitchers like Jamie Moyer terrify me. I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about a control pitcher with Moyer’s ability facing the Cubs. It’s been well documented that Moyer doesn’t have the best stuff anymore (mid-80s fastball), but the guy feasts on anxious hitters. That’s why he has like 200 wins against the Marlins. He makes those kids look stupid. This could be disastrous for the Cubs if they start to get hack-happy.
It seems like there were two runners on base every inning during Zambrano’s last start against the Nationals. Still he worked his way out of it and has somehow posted a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. Regardless, Big Z is going to need to pitch more than 5 innings in this game. Lord knows the bullpen might be a little gassed after Harden pitched the day before.
This game could easily turn into a classic pitchers duel.
As of this afternoon, coolstandings.com has the Cubs at a 32.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. We will certainly know a lot more about that number three days from now, but I’m guessing it’s going to drop. I hope I’m wrong.
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I'm gandering at the shoutbox, where I see Madisoncubaholic and cjaxson talking about Tampa Bay - a team that has won for the first time ever, supported by fans who provided them with one of the worst attendance figures in baseball in 2008. They finished the year 26th in the league, having averaged 22,259 - far and away the worst of any team that reached the playoffs.
Unlike probably most of the GROTA Army, I've been inadvertently following the Rays since March. I say "inadvertently" because I listen daily to a radio show that is broadcast out of Tampa, and they've been talking about the Rays ever since the bench clearing brawl against the Yankees during Spring Training. And although their fans suck, I've been pulling for them to succeed. Permit me to offer an alternative take on what has happened there this year:
Unlike the Cubs - yes, unlike them - the Rays are an organization that has been choked with failure at every level. Before this year, they had never won more than 70 games in a season. They've been unable to keep the few star players they've had, guys like Aubrey Huff (whose Baseball Reference page GROTA sponsors, because I love anybody with the balls to express himself honestly). They've been mismanaged and misowned, and consequently the fan base never appeared there.
It's different than with the Cubs - when Chicago was a terrible team, at least they had a beautiful ballpark. Tampa plays in a hole. I think that everybody here would agree that if the Cubs didn't have their ballpark and their history, the fan base would be perhaps a little less rabid. So when we say that the fans don't deserve the Rays, perhaps we could also argue that the Rays don't deserve their fans.
However, while it certainly is ridiculous for these crying fans to suddenly jump aboard and root for the team they've been "waiting for" all their lives - or, for the past 10 years - I think we'd be even more critical of the Rays if fans failed to appear at this point to support them.
Anyway, the short of it is this: I don't hate Tampa for in the World Series. I admire them. They are evidence that it takes more than a large payroll to reach the Series - it takes a well-built team. As much as I've come to admire Jim Hendry for putting a talented squad together, I believe he remains the most overrated GM in baseball when it comes to actually developing prospects. The Rays have reached this pinnacle because they've been well-developed. For the Cubs to become a long-term successful franchise, they'll need to do that too.
As far as the fans of the Rays go ... eh. The Cubs have had their share of bandwagoners, too. If the Rays win, I will admire them, but their fans mean nothing to me and I don't really see them as being a part of it. And while we could look at it from the simplest standpoint that this new team will have something that the Cubs do not, I think that's hardly a reason to be jealous or angry. More to the point, it's just further evidence that anything can happen, and eventually will.
To my great satisfaction, the Dodgers were defeated in 5 games by Philly in the NLCS. Call me bitter, but I just do not care to see the team that beats the Cubs win the Series. Let's blame the Marlins for that one.
It looks like Philly will be playing the Rays, although Tampa still has one more game to win before it's official. We've seen that a 3-1 series lead means little, and the Red Sox have come back from worse deficits. Nothing is in writing.
The Cubs, meanwhile, aren't exactly being newsworthy at the moment. Today's top stories include things like ...
The Tribune May Alter the Cubs Sale. (Pray that they don't alter it any further). Apparently, an epic financial crisis tends to affect billion-dollar baseball sales. Figures.
Kevin Foster's memorial services have been set. I've got little more to say about this - I liked Kevin Foster in the years that he was a Cub. I'll always remember that time he did that thing on the field that was unforgettable ... uh, I was like, 16 when he was pitching, y'know.
Oh, we got some mail from the Blue Jays yesterday. It turns out that some preliminary games played in the World Baseball Classic next year will be held in Toronto. Playing will be 4 teams over 6 games - Canada, the US, Italy, and Venezuela. All I have to do is buy a flex pack, which can be either 10 or 15 games and ranges from $120 to $915 in price. Except it'd actually be $240 in price, because I'd be buying two, and I'd still have to spend minimally another $100 if I wanted multiple tickets to the games. In other words, maybe I'll just buy the WBC tickets when they become available to the public, or else I need to get a better paying jorb.
Anyway, at some point today I'll have a thread open about trade ideas.
For those of us who were calling this four-game series a playoff preview, I'm sure there must have been a pervasive sense of disappointment when the Cubs failed to take 3 of 4. Blame Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry, who apparently decided that nothing exciting had happened for a while, causing them to reach into their bags and roll the Cause Random Stress Dice, landing on Carlos Zambrano: Arm Exhaustion.
Consequently, Sean Marshall made an emergency start today. The Phillies blasted him for 3 in the first inning, and although the Cubs were able to amass 11 hits and 2 walks, they just never seemed in the game. By the way, let's take a moment to give props to Jamie Moyer, who won his 12th game of the season today. The 45-year-old lefty now has 241 wins in his career. Oh, and did you know he started with the Cubs in the same season as a future righty Hall of Famer 42-year-old? I wonder what the statistical odds are of two pitchers starting off together on the same team in the same year and then still pitching 23 years later while combining to win 594 games? I'm not stupid enough to say that it would have made all the difference in the world, but I can't help but wonder what things would have been like if Moyer and Maddux had won all those games as Cubs.
The Cubs finish the month of August with 20 wins, and they now enter September needing 15 to reach 100. Maybe it'll happen, maybe not, it really doesn't matter no matter how often we or others talk about it. Milwaukee beat up on Pittsbugh some more today, and they are now 4.5 games out of first place. A friend of mine told me weeks ago that he'd be far less nervous about the team if they entered September with a 7 game lead.
Well, they couldn't do it, but let's not forget the lead they have on the current Wild Card team right now.
More content will come in this post later, like when I wake up tomorrow. I'm exhausted.
Apologies for nobody on the blog posting yesterday. Double apologies because this will be a short one, too.
The Cubs 7-game winning streak skidded to an end yesterday. Ignoring that they won their first 2, the Chicago offense has been a little slow since it last saw Pittsburgh pitching - who, appropriately enough, are now letting the Brewers bring the hurt. I get nervous whenever the Cubs offense stays home for a string of games, because what's stopping them from doing that in the playoffs?
However, before we walk down that road, let's not forget that there are perks to having the best pitching in baseball.
We'll have more for you later today, on this your holiday weekend.
A few days ago, I reminded everybody that the Cubs were bound to lose again. Since then, the Cubs have done nothing but prove me wrong. Even today, when they were being no-hit into the middle innings, this team managed to come from behind and then buckle down on a day when its closer was unavailable.
Can you imagine how dejecting it must be for the Brewers right now? They've been playing great baseball this month. Milwaukee has an August record of 17-7. they've had an 8 game winning streak and a 5 game winning streak. And yet, they are likely to enter September more games behind the Cubs than they were at the start of August.
Today's game would have been the first loss for Chicago in exactly a week, but this team doesn't have any quit in them. After scoring 2 runs in unusual ways - a Daryle Ward ground-out and a Kosuke Fukudome bases-loaded walk - Alfonso Soriano hit a moonshot in the 7th that, once it landed somewhere in Wisconsin, marked his 23rd of the year. It would be the difference.
Although Rich Harden wasn't at his peak today, he and the Cubs relievers were good enough. He went 5 innings, walking 4 and surrendering 3 hits. He was relieved by Lou's bodybag of choice last Friday, Chad Gaudin, who kept things close in the 5th. Then - then - Jeff Samardzija threw an inning and a third, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks while forcing Lou to turn to his 9th inning option 2 outs sooner than anybody had preferred. Luckily, Carlos Marmol has a history of doing this sort of thing, as I noted a few minutes ago. He struck out both batters he faced in the 8th, stranding 2 Phillies, and then he returned for the 9th without the Cubs offense padding his lead in the 8th.
Before I describe to you the epic struggle for the final out, I'd just like to take a moment to give props to Mark DeRosa. Granted, he wasn't exactly on a DiMaggio-like hitting streak, or even a Rose-like one, but he had hit safely in 10 straight games before this afternoon. And yet, in the bottom of the 8th, he chose to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd. That's a team player right there, folks.
In the 9th inning, Marmol trotted out there again, making this game his 14th of the season in which he's thrown more than 1 inning of work. He recorded 2 easy outs to start things, but Marmol's control then evaporated against Chase Utley. After nearly hitting Utley to start the at bat, Marmol threw 2 more balls. You could almost hear Larry Rothschild break out into a sweat. And then - and then - Marmol rediscovered the strike zone and set Utley down swinging.
Just like that, the Cubs win, they have now matched their win total from last season, they are 35 games over .500, and the Brewers are, at the moment, 7 games out of first.
Oh, and congratulations to Jeff Samardzija for notching his first ever major league win. It surprised me that this was his first. It feels as though he's been in the Majors for long enough to have recorded a win by now, especially considering how effective he's been. I'm sure this will be a contender for most obvious statement ever, but ... I have a feeling Samardzija will win plenty more before his career is over.