You've probably noticed that I've been churning out a huge number of photoshops this summer - and some of them are even funny! I've been trying to average 2 per series, although I only produced 1 for the most recent Pittsburgh series and I've yet to craft an image of Carlos (not Cliff) Lee killing the Cubs.
As you can imagine, the more the Cubs play the same teams over and over again, the harder it gets to think of a new, originally, funny image. Therefore, I'm making an open call for photoshop suggestions in this thread. There's no promise I'll actually do the image you're asking for, but if I have the time and incliation, I'll certainly give it my best shot.
So, fire away your suggestions, GROTA Army. I'll be happy to see what I can do.
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.
Without mercy, without any indication of it being a struggle, in fact, with poise and determination, the Cubs all-out slaughtered the Brewers today. I think that pretty well sums up any kind of necessary game recap, but let's look a little closer.
Apparently, Jim Edmonds has been reading the news, and he must have learned that Jim Hendry was shopping around for another outfielder, because he responded with 2 hits in 3 at bats - both homeruns, one a grand slam. Edmonds now has 12 homeruns with the Cubs and remains an amazingly valuable offensive asset.
Perhaps one of the most compelling statistics from today's game was this: after 6 innings, the Cubs had scored 5 runs, all while the 1-4 batters in the lineup had started the game 0 for 10. On top of the 2 homers by Edmonds, Soriano hit another homerun, as did Fukudome, who went 2 for 4. Kosuke, who'd been in the throws of a terrible slump - he batted .224 in the month of July - received 14 of his 21 hits this past month after the All Star Break. He's batting .298 since the break and, hopefully, he's back on track.
However, while the Cubs offense continued to reduce Brewer fans to tears, the story of the night was Rich Harden. Since coming to the Cubs, Harden had been a tough-luck starter. However, he managed his first win of the season for Chicago by throwing 7 strong innings, while allowing 6 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 9. The one run against him was a homer, and Harden how has an ERA of 1.11 with the Cubs.
I briefly discussed his incredible pitching with Jon Miller earlier, and I said that he may have supplanted Carlos as the team's ace. Jon then asked me who I'd want starting in Game One of a short series, and without hesitation I said "Carlos Zambrano!" Feel free to disagree with me, but I suspect that few of you will.
4 games, 4 wins, 31 runs scored against 11 allowed, 49 total hits, 17 walks, and if you listen carefully you can hear the sound of hearts breaking all throughout the land of cheese and beer. The Cubs entered the series having gone 3-6 since the break, and having seen their lead dwindle to 1 game. Now, they are 5 games up on either 2nd place team, and they have finished the month of July by going 15-11 in 26 games. So much for a July swoon.
It's already becoming a philosophical debate here and elsewhere. Aren't these just your typical Cubs? They're good enough to tantelize you; hell, they should even be good enough to play in October. And yet, some people are able to find a fundamental flaw with them - that flaw being, apparently, their inability to win every game (or at least every series) with comfortable dominance.
Here's the thing - no team can do that, but this team has shown that they can do a lot of other things right. For example:
- While not defensively flashy, they remain defensively sound. This is something that we are still not used to, having endured The Dusty Years.
- On any given day, their 5-8 hitters can light up a team. I can't emphasize how rare and amazing that is.
- Top to bottom, even including Marquis, the Cubs have to have one of the best rotations in baseball. Seriously. Only Oakland has a better team ERA for its starters, and do you know why that is? Because they had Rich effin' Harden for the first half of the season!!! The best team in the AL, the Angels, comes closest in having top-to-bottom quality starters, but the Cubs win pound-for-pound.
- Oh, and did we mention the bullpen? Even with the struggles of Marmol, even without the presence of Wood, the Cubs have a team ERA of 3.99. Not the best in the league right now, but I don't think we can complain much by the works of Wood, Marmol, Gaudin, and when they're back and healthy, Wuertz and Lieber. Not to mention the sensation that is Samardzija.
All of this is my way of simply saying that the Cubs are stacked. After having beaten the Brewers at home, I for one am strongly looking forward to the coming month. They have the capability of being 10 ahead of the 2nd place team come September 1st.
And, if that happens - or even comes close to happening - it'll be pretty hard not to believe that these guys are the real deal, and our best chance of ending the World Series drought in any of our life times. Go Cubs.
Current Record: 65-44
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 118-44
Worst Possible Record: 65-97 - the Cubs are now 1 win away from equalling their total number of wins in Baker's last season
On Pace For: 97-65
Magic Number: 49
Say hello to the first series of the season with real playoff implications. Earlier today, I laid out a few what-if scenarios in which I said the following: If the Cubs can win 3 of 4 on the road against the Brewers, then we can effectively declare Milwaukee dead in the water and a non-factor in the central.
In case you misunderstood, I was being just a tid-bit facetious there. Point of fact, I was making a mockery of Cub fans everywhere. You just know that, the self-defeatists that we are, if the Cubs sweep the Brewers we would be wiping the sweat from our brows, muttering phew, dodged a bullet. There would be relief, but it would only be temporary. We'd be waiting for the Cubs to take their next hit on the chin. You also just know that if the Brewers swept the Cubs, these same fans would be proclaiming that in late July, with the Cubs 3 games out of 1st place, the season would be over. Now, the last time I pointed out this self-defeatist attitude, an otherwise-loyal reader took me to task. Hey, I'm just asking - asking, not demanding - for some perspective here. The season doesn't end until the Cubs either clinch or are mathematically eliminated. Until then, it's just a whole lot of bang and clatter, folks. That said, let's take a look at this playoff-like atmosphere:
Monday, July 28th Ted Lilly (10-6, 4.49 ERA) vs. C.C. Sabathia (10-8, 3.30 ERA)
You know, this entire series so strongly resembles what it would be like should these teams meet in the playoffs that it makes my head spin a little. The match-ups are slightly off, though. Lilly would probably match up with Bush, and Harden would duel with Sabathia. Then again, if I'm the skipper, I might just fly in the face of conventional wisdom and match 'em up just like it is here. After all, Lilly is a good pitcher, albiet not a great one, but more to the point, Sabathia is a world breaker at this stage. I submit to you that if I'm the skipper, I basically say "alright, we'll give you Sabathia's start as a likely win for you, but we're lining things up so we're practically sure to win when Harden pitches."
In other words, you never know. The Cubs just might score 3 runs against Sabathia. Lilly and the bullpen just might hold the Brewers to 2. And if the Cubs win this match-up, then they are almost certain to win when Harden faces the worst starter in this series. Therefore, I'd trade a possible thing for a nearly certain thing, if that makes any sense.
No? Well, it makes sense to me.
Besides, as Cleveland Cub pointed out, Sabathia has done reaaaaaaaaal bad in the playoffs. If this is truly at all like a playoff series tonight, he's gonna choke.
Tuesday, July 29th Carlos Zambrano (11-4, 2.96 ERA) vs. Ben Sheets (10-3, 2.87 ERA)
Another huge match-up. Carlos would likely face Sheets in the playoffs. Both are aces, both can shut down an offense, but Sheets has the luxury of pitching at home in this series. However, Carlos is now known for rising to the occasion, and if Milwaukee beats the Cubs tomorrow night, I have a feeling that it's going to be by a combined score of 4 or fewer runs.
Wednesday, July 30th Ryan Dempster (11-4, 2.99 ERA) vs. Manny Parra (9-3, 3.72 ERA)
And here's where Milwaukee starts ever-so-slightly to come unglued. Parra has been a good pitcher, don't get me wrong. But the rookie starter doesn't match-up to the Cubs Third Ace, Ryan Dempster. While Parra is certainly a good pitcher at home, the Cubs' pitching depth really plays to their advantage in this match-up.
Thursday, July 31st Rich Harden (5-2, 2.10 ERA) vs. Dave Bush (5-8, 4.51 ERA)
And, at last, the closest we have to the "sure thing." Don't get me wrong, folks, the Brewers are a tough and scary team. They have a great shot at making the playoffs this year. However, while they have as potent a 1-2 combo of aces as any team in baseball, they fall apart toward the bottom half of their rotation, they are relying on a journeyman closer, and they otherwise have a grand total of two relievers who you can count on in a game - one a 39-year-old lefty, the other a 27-year-old rookie who entirely lacks in experience.
For all those reasons, I have to suggest that Milwaukee is a paper tiger, or a glass dragon, or whatever the hell else you'd like to call them. They're short. They're shallow. They have no depth. The Cubs are going to kill these guys.
I will grant you this, and only because I am trying to cover my bases, this series is no sure thing for the Cubs. Offensively, they've been slumping and they are now about to face three of the most dangerous pitchers that they'll see for a while. So, while anything could happen in the next four games, I have to say that for the next two months, I really like the Cubs' chances.
Manlove for Smorgasbord
Before I leave you to watch a great game, I thought I'd contribute a few thoughts to the new Cub Savior, Jeff Smardzija. This guy has only pitched in 2 games - one of which he blew a save which eventually cost the Cubs the game. He's got a reputation for walking too many hitters. He's really not done well at any level he's pitched at. And yet, we love the guy already. Why is that?
In part, it's because he's got talent. He can viciously mix speeds. He strikes guys out. He's tall. Some feel that he's underperformed in the minors due in part to boredom. He has an air about him, like he belongs at the Majors, and if he can continue to pitch as he has been, then the Cubs just might have a new set-up man to compliment Marmol - if they don't have a new #5 pitcher to replace Marquis.
Regardless, at Jason's suggestion, I have crafted the following photoshop depicting just how Lou Piniella feels about the guy. Enjoy.
Holy crap, they're alive.
I refer, of course, to all the people in the world who happen to be alive. I'm frankly not sure why I mentioned this, because the more relevant point is that the Cubs' bats have finally returned to form...for one day, at least. In a remarkably important game for the Cubs and all those who care for the Cubs and anything Cub related, the Cubs decided not to roll over. But it didn't seem like that's the way things were going.
You see, Jason Marquis was bad. He had no control and, when he did find the strike zone, he only found the center of the plate. This lead to a very quick five run deficit and the hope that Lou would go to the bullpen. But Lou was committed to Marquis insofar as that he didn't want to go to his bullpen (much as I rarely attempt to put out a fire with gasoline. Very rarely, in fact). And so I had given up on this game. I was sure that this was one more painful game to endure in which the Cubs' bats slept and the opponents bats rocked. Not fun to watch certainly and extremely depressing to consider.
But things didn't go down that way. At first, it was just a small rally. A few hits and a few walks led to a couple of runs. Hardly anything exciting, but certainly a small ray of hope. I mean, we were back into a save situation which, as we all know, means the game was undecided. And Jason Marquis was settling down, allowing for some heroics from everyone's favorite leadoff hitter. With one out in the forth, Soriano took a low, outside fastball to the opposite field and the game was tied. For some reason, I just knew he was going to do this. I'm pretty sure it's because I'm psychic. In fact, I'm very psychic and very powerful. You should fear me.
And then we had a ballgame. The Cubs and Marlins traded homers, with the Marlins winning the tale of the tape (if you will) as Dan Uggla's homer travelled somewhere in the realm of 600 feet and the game was still tied at 6-6. And then it was in the bottom of the 7th, as the Northwestern head coach watched on, that Mike Fontenot played the hero. The Marlins made the classic blunder of walking Darryl Ward to get to Scrappy Mike and he made them pay, clearing the bases with a double. It was ever so exciting.
And then it was Samardzjia time (did I spell that right? I didn't look it up). He truly has amazing stuff with an electric, tailing fastball and an excellent split finger and solid command. Maybe he's just hot right now, but I'll take it. The Marlins had no chance against The Big S and it was game over. The Cubs won and 9-6 and the Brewers and Cardinals lost and we're all happy. Go Cubs.
I'm excited about Samardzjia, sure, but it's nothing compared to Lou. In his postgame conference, Lou showed the rosy cheeked exuberance of a school girl whenever the name Samardzjia came up. He gushed about his poise, looking off into the distance at something only he could see. As far as Non-Sexual Man Crushes go, we've got a doozie going on here on the North Side.
So, the Cubs win. Ramirez, Lee, and Soriano are starting to emerge and the Cubs took more pitches today. They'll need all that going into Milwaukee for a four game set.
Perhaps the Cubs are confused by this all-or-nothing approach they've been taking to baseball as of late. They seem to score either 1 run or 10, with little compromise to meet that figure somewhere in the middle. Last night was a perfect example - after 2 games of offensive druthers, the Cubs scored often, and had a particularly impressive 8th inning in which they scored 6.
They did everything they needed to do. The Cubs delivered 10 base hits, including homeruns by Derrek Lee and Reed Johnson. Knowing that his play-time was about to get Duboised, Johnson went ballistic against the 'backs, going 3 for 4 with 4 RBI from his 8th inning Grand Slam. More importantly, the Cubs as a team drew 5 walks. At this point, it's safe to say that plate discipline has indeed been an important aspect of the runs this team has scored and the wins they've collected.
Oh, and did we mention that Soriano is back? He went 1 for 5 in his return, with a double. Don't get too excited, though. I will be shocked if he doesn't struggle for at least a week or too.
Meanwhile, Ted Lilly pitched 6 strong innings, allowing 6 hits, walking 3 en route to his 10th win of the season. His performance would have been for nothing had the Cubs not scored an awful lot of runs in the top of the 8th, as the D-Backs thrust the fork even deeper into Bob Howry, who gave up 3 runs in the bottom half of that inning.
Lou Piniella must have been at his wits end. The Cubs had a 4-run lead, he clearly was afraid that they'd somehow blow such a close score, and so he called on his super-arm, Carlos Marmol. Luckily, Marmol buckled down and was able to hold onto that fragile lead, although he gave up a double and a walk before he struck out Chad Tracy to end the game.
Series Recap: Another tough series on the road for the Cubs. It has become an epidemic for them, and it has to be concerning for any post season hopes. While it's certainly possible - if not likely - that the Cubs will get there, they have to have the ability to win on the road.
Maybe it's true that they have been stealing signs at home. Perhaps they've become a little too dependent on it. Or, maybe their hitting coach should do his job and help guys figure out how to hit. Just a few thoughts.
Current Record: 59-42
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 1 games in front of Milwaukee
On Pace For: 95-67
Record needed to win 120: 61-0 - undefeated all the way, baby!
Welcome to your late Sunday night post extravaganza. In this article, I will not only:
- Recap the game and the final series before the break
- Discuss the younger players on the team
but I will also post the final photoshop of the first half, a biting and scathing commentary on the monterey excess of the Giants and how it's gotten them nowhere so far. Yep, it's gonna be a good'un.
So, not surprisingly, Tim Lincecum proved to be unbeatable today. It's hard to blame Clownsevelt for losing - when facing the opposing team's best pitcher, scoring 2 runs in a game just won't cut it.
Perhaps the best news of the loss is the continued resurgence of Jim Edmonds, who went 1 for 3 with another run driven in. He'd been slumping horribly since the start of July, but went 3 for 8 against the Giants with a homer, 2 doubles, and 5 RBI.
Additionally, Chad Gaudin might just become the de facto setup man so long as Marquis remains a Cub and Harden remains healthy. He pitched another 2 solid innings today, striking out 2 and giving up a single hit. He only needed 23 pitches - 17 for strikes.
Ironically, Carlos Marmol has become a de facto All Star as Kerry Wood will be missing the game due to a blister. By default, this gives the Cubs eight All Stars this season, a team record, even if 2 of the 8 will be watching from the proverbial gurney in the dugout.
Anyway, as far as this goes, I have nothing else to say about this specific game. It was a dud, but we all sort of expected it to be. Not even the great Clownsevelt can win them all at home, but he's shown that he'll win most.
This was a series of highs and lows. The Cubs exit with a solid lead in the central and a handful of aces on their squad, although their setup man has proven to be perhaps hopelessly flapped. I realize that we sometimes get a little bit of flack for not piling onto poor performances - if our readers had it their way, we would have already chucked Derrek Lee and Michael Wuertz into the flames, where they would've been greeted by Aramis Ramirez if one of our less-legendary ex writers had it his way. So, while Marmol has certainly proven that he can't be trusted, I think it'd be stupid-at-the-very-least to suggest he's pitching with a Rich Hill Brand Fork stuck in him.
All of this is a lesson, by the way. The Giants had a costly win now mentality for too long, and they're paying for it now. Consequently, they're also paying from out of their pockets for overpriced players, Zito in particular. Tell me something, Giants fans, is this the image you really wanted to see this year?
I think, all told, the final line really says everything that's important:
Current Record: 57-38 (tying them for the best record in all of baseball)
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4.5 games in front of St. Louis
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 63-4
The Cub Youth Movement
But wait, there's even more content to be had!
A year ago, the Cubs were also making a playoff charge at this time. They were doing it primarily on the backs of a number of young players - many of whom we now take for granted. However, let's take a closer look at some of these young studs who have performed so well for the Cubs:
Theriot and Fontenot: Last year, I likened Theriot and Fontenot to Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton. In '89, Smith and Walton finished back-to-back in the Rookie of the Year vote, as their contributions definitely pushed the Cubs into the playoffs. Last year, although they eventually tapered off, Theriot and Fontenot were essential players to the success of the Cubs. Theriot batted .348 with an OBP of .437 last July, which he followed up by batting a more reasonable .276 with a .315 OBP in August, before he eventually fell off the face of the earth in September. All told, he finished with a .266 AVG and .326 OBP with 28 steals in 32 attempts in his first full season in the majors. Fontenot did similar work last year, batting .397 in 78 at bats in June with 15 RBI before losing favor with Lou later in the year after he stopped putting up super-human numbers. Still, Fontenot batted .278 with a .336 OBP in 234 at bats last year.
This season, Theriot and Fontenot are having more successful sophomore seasons. In about 90 fewer at bats, the 28-year-old Fontenot has 4 more homeruns than he had last season, he's already got 21 RBI, he's drawn 1 less walk, and he's already hit as many doubles. Theriot, meanwhile, is batting .320 with an OBP of .394 and 15 steals (although he's been caught 9 times) and, in a full 190 fewer at bats, he's already drawn 41 walks compared with last year's total of 49.
As the Cubs continue to succeed, these guys are big reasons why.
Geovany Soto: When Soto was promoted to the majors last year, he'd already set the PCL ablaze. However, that's a league very notorious for inflated power numbers, and yet the young Soto quickly won the confidence of Lou Piniella by batting .389 with 3 homers and 8 RBI in just 18 games. In fact, Soto was the primary starter in the NLDS, which has to be unheard of for a young catcher.
In other words, the Cubs have this season a rookie catcher who's starting the All Star Game and already has playoff experience - and a post season homer. Pretty weird. All that said, Soto appears to be the real deal, rather than a mirage of Rick Wilkins-like proportions. He's hit 16 homers in his first full season, and he is presently on pace for 42 doubles, 28 homers, 99 RBI, and 74 walks. One small bit of warning - Soto is also on pace to play in 155 games this year. If Lou doesn't rest him a little more often, then his numbers are going to suffer.
Ronny Cedeno: I'm still harboring hope that he'll be traded, because there's just something about the guy that rubs me the wrong way. However, at the age of 25, Cedeno does have one odd statistic that looks better than it means - in 130 at bats and in 35 hits, Cedeno has 20 RBI and, hell, he's even got an OBP of .340. It's been a while since it happened, but for a while there Ronny was getting more clutch hits than Prince has gotten hot trim. He's won some game for the Cubs, but as Rob would argue, he's about as baseball smart as the guy who reared him, Dusty Baker, and that's problematic.
Sean Marshall: More trade bait. Last year, Marshall started 19 games for the Cubs. He went 7-8, he had an ERA of 3.92, and he at times looked, erm, not unimpressive. This year, Marshall has again at times stepped in as a starter, although he now is pitching out of the pen, and he has an ERA of 3.81 in 28.1 innings of work.
Maybe Marshall will contribute, maybe he'll be traded, but he's proven to be a not bad player, kind of like Fontenot, Theriot, or Wuertz. Look at it this way, folks - no team can field nothing but All Stars.
Carlos Marmol: A huge contributor to last year's playoff run, Marmol was as much a guarnatee as prom night action until the past month. He's already thrown 52.1 innings of work. I'll say it again - Lou needs to manage him differently. Even as the Cubs drive forward, Marmol's story will become increasingly interesting. I hate to toss out that trite cliche, but, it'll be interesting to see what happens.
It looks like this article is going to be a whole bunch of things scrunched into one. That's the price we pay when the Cubs inconveniently play an opening game of a series during the middle of a work day.
The San Francisco Giants used to be a good team. Point of fact, over an 8 year span they averaged 92 wins a season, they made 4 playoff appearances, and they even got to lose a World Series. I'm sure there are a lot of Cub fans out there who'd make a Faustian deal for those kinds of results - after all, when you're a Cubs fan, even a World Series defeat would be amazing - and that's pretty much what the Giants did. They went to a crossroads at midnight, they sacrificed some virgins and murmured some chants, and when the devil finally appeared he was carrying a briefcase full of 'roids. Unfortunately for the Giants, the life of the deal has ended and Karma has reversed their fortunes - San Fran's been averaging 74 wins a year these past 3 seasons, and they're on pace to win under 70 this year. You know your team is screwed when your top offensive superstar is on pace to hit about 14 homeruns and your multi-million dollar ace has lost 12 games before the All Star Break. Yep, that's Fog Town these days. They might as well rename their ballpark:
The Pitching Match-Ups
Friday, July 11th Matt Cain vs. Jason Marquis
What do you get when you mix a 23-year-old righty who's already logged 560+ career innings and had an ERA of 3.65 last year and still lost 16 with the crappiest Cubs starter? Apparently, you get a duel. We'll get to that later, so read on.
Saturday, July 12th, Dick Harden vs. Kevin Correria
Kevin Correria is the poor schmuck tapped by the Giants to pitch in what will surely be an electric game at Wrigley Field. So far this year, Correria is 1-5 with a 4.96 ERA, and in his last outing against the Cubs on July 2nd, he gave up 4 earned runs in 6.1 innings of work en route to a Cubs 6-5 victory.
He faces the already-legendary Rich Harden, a man whose immense talent is dwarfed only by his incredibly fragile arm. It's a little too early to do much more than worry and wonder about what his health will be like for the remainder of the year, but the Cubs appear to be planning a strict regimen of pitch counts, they plan on giving him 5 days rest whenever possible, and they have apparently brought in a hypnotist who will regularly put Harden under and tell him that he feels no pain and must cluck like a chicken anytime Lou curses. In other words, it's going to be a weird, interesting second half.
Sunday, July 13th Ryan Dempster vs. Tim Lincecum
It seems likely that Dempster's final start before the break will keep him out of the All Star Game in the middle of next week, although I am obviously only guessing. Regardless, this will be the toughest game of the series for the Cubs as Dempster looks to continue his home game dominance against the one good pitcher the Giants have. It's safe to say that any team in baseball would love to have Lincecum in their rotation, as the 24-year-old righty is 10-2 this season with a 2.66 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 121.2 innings of work. The last time he won this season was against the Cubs, who he held to 3 runs in 6 innings of work. Dempster has his work cut out for him.
Predictions: Well, I believe it is safe to say that the Cubs won't get swept.
That said, the Giants will make it hard on the Cubs to be swept, too. Something I said yesterday was that, in any given series, the Cubs have the best pitcher in 2 out of 3 games. As good as Dempster has been, Lincecum has been better. That said, Dempster is 10-0 at home with a 2.58 ERA, but his opponent is 7-1 on the road with a 2.23 ERA. No matter what, it's going to be a fun game to watch.
I have a very strong suspision that Harden's debut tomorrow will be followed closely by a lot of Cub fans. I also don't expect Lou to use him beyond 6 innings. I'll make no predictions, but I will say that I haven't felt this much anxiety about a start since the days of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior circa 2004 and 2005. And, with that, onto today's Game Recap.
Who knew that Jason Marquis would find himself in a bonafide pitcher's duel today? Perhaps the recent trade for Chad Gaudin - a man who has been characterized by some as the fifth best starting pitcher on the team - has motivated Marquis to step up his game a little. Regardless of why it happened, Marquis went 4 innings before surrendering a hit today. Unfortunately for him, Matt Cain was equally effective - he held the Cubs to 3 hits and 3 walks in 7 innings of work while striking out 9.
Marquis, meanwhile, who exited after 81 pitches, also allowed only 3 hits while walking 2. Now, if you're wondering why Lou seems to rarely allow Marquis to pitch past the 7th, or to throw more than 80 or 90 pitches, then look no further than the cold, hard reality of statistics. Marquis is actually a respectable pitcher, up until he throws his 75th pitch. Teams are batting .253 against him from pitches 1-75. After that, it gets ugly - teams are hitting .380 against Marquis from pitches 76 and beyond. So, being the wily veteran manager that Lou is, he knows that he has more important things to roll dice on, like pitching Marmol for the 3rd straight day, or yelling at Carlos Zambrano on the mound in front of 40,000 screaming fans. (If Lou was afraid of taking his life into his own hands, then he wouldn't be managing the Cubs.)
Luckily for the Cubs, they have a third baseman who is clutch. Aramis Ramirez has hit more than his fair share of big homeruns in his career, and he added to that talley today. In the 8th inning, Tim Walker gave up a leadoff hit to the Quiet Theriot before Little Babe Ruth sacrified him to second. The Giants then made a ridiculous mistake - they intentionally walked Derrek Lee to get to Aramis. Ramirez proceeded to make them pay with a deep homer to left, and that would be enough to make the difference.
In the 9th, Kerry Wood proved that he could allow the leadoff man to get on base and still get a save, although he still permitted a run to score. Actually, I think Wood just wanted to make things more interesting, so he allowed the first three Giant batters to get on before mowing down "The Hope of San Francisco" Aaron Rowand and inducing a flyout and groundout to end the game.
The Cubs are now 56-37 and, thanks to Milwaukee losing yet again, they now stand 4.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and 5 games in front of the Brewers. I guess Milwaukee is learning the hard way that trading for an ace still means that they have to actually, y'know, win games. You don't just get bumped up to first place on the merits of Sabathia's talent.
Oh, and one last thought. The Cubs again have the best record in baseball. Sleep well, Cub fans. Harden pitches tomorrow.
Apologies, as this will be abbreviated.
Ted Lilly had far from his best stuff today, as he was chased by the Reds after only 2 plus innings of work. His replacement pitchers were no better - every guy the Cubs turned to allowed at least 1 run scored, from Wuertz and his 4 earned runs to Gaudin and Cotts and their 1 run apiece. The Reds hit 7 homeruns tonight. I am comforted by knowing that it's a matter of time before the following image becomes a reality:
Jon Lieber also gave up 2 more runs to the Reds. Lieber has now allowed 9 earned runs against the Reds in 5 innings of work - that's a cringe-worthy ERA of 16.20. I am convinced that Lieber owes Dusty considerable gambling debts, and has become his patsy. Subtract his performances against Cincy, and Jon Lieber has an ERA of 1.81 in 39.2 innings of work.
The Cubs actually managed to score 7 runs again tonight. I recently noted that they've scored 7 runs in amost 25% of all wins. This is the second time they've scored 7 in a game they lost. Mike Fontenot hit another homer and double tonight. Somebody call up Roy Hobbs and tell him they've found out who stole Wonderboy.
Series Recap: The Cubs were pwned by Cincy today, but they had another series win and they remain 4 games in front of 2nd place Milwaukee. Chicago has one more series before the break, against the hapless Giants.
One thing I realized as I write this is that, when I look at projected starters for any given series, I always feel a warm sense of relief when I realize that the Cubs have good starters pitching. What I realized tonight is that I get that sense of relief in every series, because in any given set, the Cubs are likely to have the better pitcher in at least 2 out of 3 games. When even your weakest link is on pace to win more games than he loses, you're doing pretty good.
Current Record: 55-37
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4 games in front of Milwaukee
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 65-5
Can you imagine the Milwaukee clubhouse earlier today? They must have been flying high, feeling good about themselves, exchanging high fives in the clubhouse as they pondered their inevitable playoff run. Then, the news breaks. Dick Harden is a Cub. Harden is younger than Sabathia, he's got better stuff, and I can only imagine the dejected expressions on the faces of the Brewers as they learned that the Cubs paid next-to-nothing from their current roster to get the trade done.
The Cubs, meanwhile, treated it as business as usual by making it look easy against the Reds tonight by scoring 7 runs and holding Cincy to 3.
On the pitching front, Ryan Dempster didn't have his best stuff - and, yet, he was able to hold the Reds to 2 hits in 7 innings. It was his walk total that almost killed him. The Reds did all their damage against him in the 4th, and it was all on walks as he issued passes to Griffey, Dunn, Votto, and Bako before getting out of the inning mostly unscathed en route to his 10th win of the season - which is about 7 more wins than I thought he'd have as a Cubs starter this year. Sometimes I love being wrong.
Offensively, the Cubs scored their typical 7 runs - something they've done in 14 times this season, a little more than once a week on average (and just under a quarter of their wins for the season). This was accomplished on 7 hits and 8 walks - Dusty Baker must be scratching his head as to how it happened - with 2 big hits coming from Ron Santo's "Little Babe Ruth," Mike Fontenot, including his 6th homerun and his 11th double. (Memo to Colin: if Ron Santo loves Fontenot, it's time to put the clamps down on your insistence that he sucks. Besides, as a bench player Fontenot is proving to be an asset, and he's been getting some big hits for the Cubs.) Seriously, Fontenot is a backup on pace for 12 homers and 23 doubles in just 270-or-so at bats.
Geo Soto continued to prove his qualifications as well. The starting All Star hit his 16th of the season for the Cubs.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Carlos Marmol came in to pitch in a tight situation and he came out unscathed. Against Phillips and Dunn, with 1 out and 2 men on, Marmol escaped by inducing a pop-out to third and a strikeout, in that order.
The Cubs will face one of Dusty's young arms tomorrow. It should be a fun game.
And next year, Dusty's young arms will look like this ...