In his first ever start in Colorado, Randy Wells got hammered -- going 5.1 innings, giving up 8 hits, and surrendering 7 runs (5 earned) to the wild card contending Rockies. He was relieved by Jeff Stevens, who managed to put it out of reach with his 4 run one inning appearance. Ouch.
Offensively, the Cubs found themselves with a ton of opportunities -- they had runners on in all but one inning all day, but they only managed to nit-pick their runs one at a time and never really got close. Still, every regular but Soriano collected at least two hits, including the 4-for-5 Milton Bradley, who suddenly has his AVG up to .266. Wouldn't it be shocking and somewhat ridiculous if he managed to finish the year near .280?
Anyway. The Cubs lost. As a team, they left 13 men on base, and overall they had 27 different run-scoring opportunities that they squandered. They should have pummeled the Rockies, but instead left the game as sad participants. Still, they will have a chance to even the series tomorrow, which I for one would be perfectly satisfied with.
One other note:
It's come to our attention that Alfonso Soriano's rally-killing strikeout late in the game was a selfish act on his part. I have to agree. I believe that Soriano is a me-first kind of player, although none of his teammates (or even really the journalists covering him) have exposed him as such (despite the enjoyment that seemed to permiate from the Cubs clubhouse and press box whenever Sosa was called out). I believe that striking out to end the rally is exactly the kind of glory that a hound like Soriano seeks, and this is just another example of how his me-first antics are destroying the team.
So let me say to Soriano on behalf of Cub Fan Nation: we're onto your game, buddy! It's only a matter of time now!
Clearly, these Cubs were done for. That's what some of us concluded at that point, amiright? They wouldn't come back, and there was nothing stopping the Rockies from beating Dempster around some more in the 5th, or 6th, or until Lou walk-of-shamed him off the mound and into the dugout.
In my head, I saw hardened, cynical Cub fans dancing, proclaiming this as further proof to the verifiable evidence that, sorry kiddies, this just ain't their year. After all, St. Louis won today, and no team has ever overcome a 2-game deficit in early August. The mocking cynic I am, I posted in the ShoutBox "nooo, year over man, year over!"
Except, y'know, it's really not. Putting such weight on any one game, or even any one series, is the sort of things fans do but that doesn't make it right. I have trouble imagining that, when Derrek Lee steps up to the plate with the tying run on 1st base, he thinks "if only we'd won that game against Houston..." before futilely striking out. No, that doesn't happen.
And tonight, when Lee stepped up in the 5th, he wasn't thinking about the burden of the weight we try to put on him. And he hit his 23rd of the year. Then, in the 6th, leadoff and #2 hitters Ryan Theriot and Milton Bradley knocked home 2 runs, and the Cubs were back in the lead. Then, to add insult to safety-net, Kosuke Fukudome hit his 9th homer of the year in the 7th, giving the Cubs the comfort-run they'd need.
After an overstayed Dempster left, the Cubs turned to their bullpen's brightest, who pitched 3 innings of 2-hit, 0-walk, 4-strike-out baseball. The "brightest" line includes Kevin Gregg, who was flawless in the 9th for his 22nd save.
Will the Cubs win tomorrow, or the day after that? Lord if I know. But whether they win or don't, the only context it really has to the season is in terms of whether or not the Cardinals win or don't. No matter what Dave Kaplan -- or even Our Rob -- tells you, if they wanted each little game to have instrumental meaning, then they'd play 16, not 162. That is all.
Apparently, the fact that Marshall and the Shark were beaten so soundly by the Rockies is evidence that these Cubs cannot possibly be "the team that wins it all." I liken this to a person learning that the market is down and tens of millions of Americans are unemployed, only to conclude that it's not a temporary problem and that we're all gonna die.
True enough, the Rockies beat the hell out of the Cubs. At the same time, the Cardinals won and, despite having lost one more game than the Cubs so far, are now 1 game ahead of them in the standings. But rather than use this loss as an example proving that unlike any other team which may make the playoffs these Cubs cannot possibly win if they get there, I might suggest that we keep our heads a little and note that Marshall was used at the last second in an emergency start, that Samardzija should not -- and probably would not -- be on a Major League roster, especially in October, and that no single game, win or loss, can tell anybody anything about a team's chances in the playoffs.
So, seriously, get ahold of yourselves and man up. Game Deuce is at 7 central and I'll have that recap up before I go to bed tonight.
No brooms tonight, as the Cub's offense was shut down again. How is this team going to hit the opponents best couple starters if they do make the post season, if they can't manage to score against number 3-4 guys? I know you probably didn't mean it the way it sounded, Dan, but that's the sort of comment that will drive me to stand atop tall buildings and look longingly down at the concrete sidewalk far below. Despite the butt-kicking they received last night, the Cubs have been one of the winningest teams in baseball since the All Star Break. Rather than look negatively at how they failed "to score against number 3-4 guys," I think we should call it what it was -- Reds pitcher Justin Lehr pitched a hell of a game. Expecting any team, be they the Dodgers, or Cubs, or Cardinals, to always beat the 3-4 pitchers in a rotation is a mistake. Teams like the Cubs will surely smack around the Justin Lehrs of the world more often than the Justlin Lehrs smack them around, but not always. Meanwhile, Cub fans are anxious to give Rich Harden's job to Grozelanny, because Rich has been below-average this year while Gorzo had one solid start. I'd suggest that this might be a case of jumping the ol' gun a bit. Harden suffered from One Bad Inning syndrome last night (the pathos of which were explored in detail by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior several years ago) but if he manages to pitch 6 innings while surrendering only 2 earned runs and striking out 9 every time he's out there, I don't think the Cubs would be justified in taking him out of the rotation. Also, I think it's pretty ironic that Justin Lehr kicks the team's ass and people are ready to question the team's ability to win, while Gorzelanny kicks the Reds ass and people are ready to prop him up and give him a role in the rotation. Guys, dudes, bros, Lehr and Gorzelanny are essentially the same guy right now -- number 3-4 pitchers who had great games and nothing more until they prove otherwise! Anyway, at least the Cardinals lost again, keeping the Cubs propped in first place for the time being. It's interesting to note that they were essentially shut down by not one but two "3-4 guys" on the Mets roster -- Jonathon Niese, who left the game in the second inning and Nelson Figueroa, who pitched 4.1 scoreless innings in relief lowering his ERA to 6.75 on the season. I can't help but wonder how the Cardinals can win in the post season against good teams' best couple starters if they can't manage to score against number 3-4 guys? Also: today is an off-day, so along with Cubs 101 we will probably have a Roster Thoughts article sometime in the afternoon. I'll probably use the opportunity to dispell the continuing misconception of Jeff Samardzija and his remaining options while waxing hypothetical about what moves need to be made.
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, .002 percentage points ahead of the Cardinals
Magic Number: 55 (thanks to cubsmagicnumber.com)
Best Possible Record: 113-49
Worst Possible Record: 57-105
Record needed to win 90: 33-23
On Pace For: 87-75
No brooms tonight, as the Cub's offense was shut down again. How is this team going to hit the opponents best couple starters if they do make the post season, if they can't manage to score against number 3-4 guys?
I know you probably didn't mean it the way it sounded, Dan, but that's the sort of comment that will drive me to stand atop tall buildings and look longingly down at the concrete sidewalk far below. Despite the butt-kicking they received last night, the Cubs have been one of the winningest teams in baseball since the All Star Break. Rather than look negatively at how they failed "to score against number 3-4 guys," I think we should call it what it was -- Reds pitcher Justin Lehr pitched a hell of a game. Expecting any team, be they the Dodgers, or Cubs, or Cardinals, to always beat the 3-4 pitchers in a rotation is a mistake. Teams like the Cubs will surely smack around the Justin Lehrs of the world more often than the Justlin Lehrs smack them around, but not always.
Meanwhile, Cub fans are anxious to give Rich Harden's job to Grozelanny, because Rich has been below-average this year while Gorzo had one solid start. I'd suggest that this might be a case of jumping the ol' gun a bit. Harden suffered from One Bad Inning syndrome last night (the pathos of which were explored in detail by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior several years ago) but if he manages to pitch 6 innings while surrendering only 2 earned runs and striking out 9 every time he's out there, I don't think the Cubs would be justified in taking him out of the rotation.
Also, I think it's pretty ironic that Justin Lehr kicks the team's ass and people are ready to question the team's ability to win, while Gorzelanny kicks the Reds ass and people are ready to prop him up and give him a role in the rotation. Guys, dudes, bros, Lehr and Gorzelanny are essentially the same guy right now -- number 3-4 pitchers who had great games and nothing more until they prove otherwise!
Anyway, at least the Cardinals lost again, keeping the Cubs propped in first place for the time being. It's interesting to note that they were essentially shut down by not one but two "3-4 guys" on the Mets roster -- Jonathon Niese, who left the game in the second inning and Nelson Figueroa, who pitched 4.1 scoreless innings in relief lowering his ERA to 6.75 on the season. I can't help but wonder how the Cardinals can win in the post season against good teams' best couple starters if they can't manage to score against number 3-4 guys?
Also: today is an off-day, so along with Cubs 101 we will probably have a Roster Thoughts article sometime in the afternoon. I'll probably use the opportunity to dispell the continuing misconception of Jeff Samardzija and his remaining options while waxing hypothetical about what moves need to be made.Current Record: 57-49
The new Cubs lefty made his debut tonight, and he was above-and-beyond what we were probably expecting. Gorzo went 7.1 innings against the Reds, holding them to 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 earned run while striking out 6. Of course, the Cubs bullpen would make things interesting, with Angel Guzman surrendering a 2-run homer in a 9th inning non-save situation, but Dusty's crew just couldn't git'er done.
Offensively it was a 9-hit, 3-walk day for the Cubs, starting with a leadoff shot by Kosuke Fukudome who is trying his damndest to elevate himself out of Rob's doghouse. On top of Fooky's performance, the Cubs doubled and singled their way toward 4 runs in the 6th, followed by a Derrek Lee solo shot in the 7th.
The Cubs now find themselves within striking distance of sweeping the Reds. Hey, if Dusty continues to insist on using Willy ".275 OBP" Taveras as his leadoff dude, then we can only assume it will be a done deal.
Meanwhile, in Cubs blogger land, we posted earlier today a Gregg Defense article, causing one long-time, kick-ass reader to say the following:
I could very well have missed something because I only have time to get
on here about 10 to 15 minutes a day, but I dont remember anybody
actually HATING Kevin Gregg
There was definitely some hate in the ShoutBox, but beyond that here's what you've been missing in Cubs Nation Blog Land:
Sports broadcaster Dave Kaplan:
If this team has hopes of
going to the playoffs and contending once they get there I do not
believe they can keep Gregg as their closer. He is not an overpowering
pitcher and he has a penchant for the long ball that is often fatal
because when he pitches the game is almost always on the line. He has
surrendered 10 HR's in the closer's role which is the most in baseball
by any closer in the Top 15 in saves by a wide margin.
Cubs blogger Frodog
I can’t seem to mention his name without having a middle name. I never
liked this guy from the first pitch he threw in a Cub uniform. There
was no movement on his fastball, and I knew he was gonna get crushed. I
Those are just the easy two.
I commented on Kaplan's blog regarding his opinion, for which I almost immediately received an EMail response. Apparently he takes his blog seriously. Kaplan's basic opinion appears to be that a pitcher can be almost lights-out for three straight months, but if he has two bad games in a row then he "has not earned the closer's job" and needs to be demoted. Thankfully, Kaplan isn't running the team because he would be the Anti-Dusty Baker ... instead of holding an intense and unreasonable loyalty for his players, he'd apparently throw them to the wolves at every turn.
Anyway, the Cubs remain a percentage point-or-so ahead of the Cardinals, who beat the Mets in extra innings tonight. For whatever it's worth*, I've lately had a very good feeling about the chances of this team. Maybe it's fitting that, on top of their continued hold of first place in the division, they'll be taking on their prime competition for the Wild Card very shortly.
(*"for what it's worth"? I'll tell you what it's worth -- nothing. Dog Piss Jones)
Really, there were five key players in tonight's win over the Reds.
First off, we had the Cubs' True Ace, the Second Son of God, Randy Wells.
Last time out, Cub fans were hoping Randy could pitch a good number of innings since the bullpen had been worked so hard in the few games before. This time, Cub fans found themselves in exactly the same place.
Last time, Wells responded by throwing eight innings. Tonight, he got through 7.1 innings pitched, before Key Player #2 John Grabow came on to get an inning-ending double play ball (after hitting a batter, if I remember correctly).
Perhaps the best synonym for "ace" that defines Randy Wells these days is "stopper." When the Cubs have really needed a shutdown performance, a bunch of innings while holding the opposition's offense in check, Randy's given it to them. I think in the postgame press conference, Lou himself posed a question, which was something to the effect of: "Where would we be without this guy?" It's a pretty scary question, actually.
Wells and Grabow covered innings one-thru-eight on the mound. Before we talk about the pitching in the ninth, let's talk about the two Cub hitters with RBIs this evening.
First off, kudos to Mike Fontenot (KP #3). Mike was able to put a good swing on a Aaron Harang fastball with two men on, giving the Cubs a nice 3-0 lead that would end up being enough to win the game tonight. Good to see, indeed.
Also, Derrek Lee (KP #4) was credited with an RBI tonight. His double chased Aaron Harang from the mound, and gave the team even more cushion in the ninth inning.
Speaking of the ninth, let's get back to the pitching. The reliever Piniella went with to close out tonight's win was Carlos Marmol (KP #5), as Kevin Gregg was suffering from a little bit of a dead arm (a completely reasonable response to having thrown 38 pitches two nights before, and 10 the day after that).
Personally, I was kinda hoping he'd keep Grabow in for another hitter, just to see if he could get some additional outs before going with the Human Walkman. But with the Walkman he went, and so the fun began.
Marmol walked the leadoff guy, and gave up a single as well before eventually facing Alex Gonzalez with two men on. In what ended up being an 11-pitch at-bat, Carlos hung about five sliders to Gonzalez (this is by no means an exaggeration--at least five breaking pitches were thrown middle-up). Gonzalez fouled four of them off, before making Carlos pay on the fifth.
Fortunately, Willy Tavares sucks really hard, and Carlos was able to escape the jam with the next batter and preserve the win. But man, was it fun in the meantime!
At the end of the day, the Cubs are back in first place. Cool!
Which is to say, not very much at all.
This weekend would have been a lot more fun if our bullpen could have gotten outs every time they took the mound. On Friday, Marmol stunk it up. On Saturday, Samardzija and Gregg coughed up leads. On Sunday, Gregg was at it again.
Before we all start hooting and hollering about who the Cubs closer should be, I just want to point out two things.
1) Kevin Gregg's June/July numbers.
His April was pretty shitty, and his May was pretty meh-diocre. But let's look at the groove Gregg had been in before this past weekend.
In 27 innings pitched between June and July, Gregg had allowed just 17 hits, 8 walks, and collected 25 strikeouts. With only seven earned runs allowed, that gave him a 2.33 ERA for the J months.
Clearly, he's a capable reliever. And he's gotten a ton of saves already. So what gives with the last two outings?
Saturday is hard to account for. Two outs, two strikes--you gotta close that out, man. Maybe pitching in Florida made him nervous; maybe the opposing staff knew what he was going to throw (did we have that advantage against Wood?); maybe he's an idiot.
But Sunday was a little more surprising.
2) Kevin Gregg threw 38 pitches on Saturday.
We love Lou Piniella. We've given him various amounts of grief throughout his Cubs tenure, depending on the latest performance of our team. We may or may not have had an "axe Lou" series earlier this season, but we realize that, for the most part, he's better than the rest.
At the same time, there's one thing Lou has never been good at, and that's managing a bullpen. Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol are two quick examples of Lou inexplicably overworking arms, often to the detriment of the team.
Does Lou take the blame for Sunday's crap outing from Kevin Gregg? I'd be willing to pin a sliver of it on him. In my recap from the previous game, I mentioned that I expected to see Jeff Stevens and Sean Marshall used in today's game, since everyone else had been worked pretty hard the night before. Of course, Lou didn't use either of those relievers, and stuck with his main 'pen rotation.
Maybe I'm making crap excuses for a crap closer. But really, what else can we do? He's our guy. Hopefully, it's not close against the Reds, and we get another outstanding performance from a starter like we did in Sunday's game with Dempster.
If you don't buy my excuses with Gregg, please let me know. Regardless, I have a feeling he's still gonna be the closer this month. And I'd say I'm OK with that.
Current Record: 55-48
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, .5 games behind St. Louis
Magic Number: 58 (thanks to cubsmagicnumber.com)
Best Possible Record: 114-48
Worst Possible Record: 55-107
Record needed to win 90: 35-24
On Pace For: 86-76
Well, that was fun.
A lot happened in last night's game. Working backwards: Soriano saw time at 2nd and 3rd in the 10th inning; Derrek Lee hit his 21st home run in the top of the 10th inning, after Kevin Gregg blew a three-run lead despite getting two outs and two strikes on the third hitter; of Carlos Marmol's first 17 pitches in the 8th inning, three were for strikes (he would get two strikeouts from that point); and Jeff Samardzija gave up three notable runs in 1.2 innings pitched in relief of an injured Carlos Zambrano.
Oh yeah, and the Cubs won.
This was a pretty wild game, a game that puts the Cubs in a bit of a bind today. With almost everyone in the 'pen having gotten some serious work, it seems like we can almost guarantee appearances from Jeff Stevens and Sean Marshall in today's game.
Speaking of guarantees, I can also almost guarantee that Jeff Samardzija will be sent to Triple A Iowa as soon as the Cubs add newly-acquired SP Tom Gorzelanny to the active roster. Furthermore, I hope he stays there for the rest of the season and figures out how the hell he's supposed to pitch. It's clear that this kid is not ready for the bigs, and in that case, why is he here?
Other storylines we'll need to keep an eye on going forward: what's up with Big Z's back? Zambrano left last night's game after three innings with back tightness. He claimed it wasn't serious at the time, but who knows what effect this will have on an already thin rotation?
Another injured Cub in last night's game was Aramis Ramirez. Rammy got dizzy after being hit in the "meaty part" of the forearm with a pitch. The dizziness thing sounds more like exhaustion or dehydration than anything serious, so we'll see if he plays in today's game.
Ideally, Ryan Dempster pitches seven innings today, Stevens and Marshall close it out, and the offense scores a bunch of runs. For some reason, I have a feeling it'll be a little more exciting than that.
The obvious reason for why this game went to crap had to do with Carlos Marmol walking two Marlin batters in the bottom of the 8th inning. If he gets outs, maybe we go a little longer, maybe the Cubs score later on, and so on and so forth.
But really, the offense wasn't exactly killing the ball tonight either. I don't know how many additional outs the Cubs would have needed to give the hitters enough time to take the lead. The Cubs were 1-for-12 at the top of the line-up, with Derrek Lee collecting the only hit among the first three Cub hitters.
Volstad was good. All we could muster off of him was a bloop and a blast, and that happened relatively late in the game.
For the Cubs, Harden was decent; 11 Ks is awesome, but five innings is not. Harden also gave up an RBI double to the opposing pitcher.
On a positive note, John Grabow's debut went well. He did walk a batter, but retired the next three Marlins hitters he faced.
In the end, I'm chalking this one up as an off night for the offense. Let's put some more pressure on the starting pitcher in tomorrow's game.
Yesterday, the Astros busted out 11 runs against Chicago, thanks mostly to a tired, incompetent Cubs bullpen. Today, the Cubs returned the favor with an explosion of 12 runs scored. If the laws of "don't score too many one day or you won't have any tomorrow" hold true, then hopefully the two teams have evened things out and tomorrow will be a fair contest.
Wait, the Cubs also held the Astros to 0 runs? Huh. Never mind.
Today's offensive heroes were everybody in the Cubs lineup -- except Fukudome, who was called in to replace an injured Reed Johnson -- with particular nods to Aramis Ramirez (solo homerun in the 3rd*) and Alfonso Soriano (3-run-jack in the 2nd). Even Three Finger Hill, whose offensive numbers are mocked by most pitchers in the league, managed 2 hits and an RBI, raising his average to .143 on the season. Woof.
(*It would have gone farther into the bleachers if only he wasn't nursing that dastardly shoulder injury)
The bloodshed was all made possible in part because the Astros left Mike Hampton in to face the Cubs for 4 innings, despite his surrendering of 7 runs through 2, with a special nod to Randy Wells. In his second career start against Houston, he went 8 innings -- a career high -- allowing 6 hits, 2 walks, only 1 strikeout, and 0 runs. His ERA is now back down to 2.84, he's now 7-4 on the season, and I would again like to reiterate my support for his journey toward Rookie of the Year status.
In moderately unrelated news, SBoxer Ice asks how options work. I'll present two answers -- my understanding of it without researching the rule, and then the actual rule itself. We'll call it the How Well Does Kurt Know the Rules Challenge.
Options work like this -- every player in the minor league system who gets added to the 40 man roster has something like four options. No matter how often said player is called up or sent down to Triple A, it only counts as 1 option for the year. Once said player has run out of options, he must remain with the big league team, pass through waivers, or be released.
According to Baseball America:
When a player is added to a 40-man roster for the first time, the major
league team is permitted three optional assignments of his contract, or
three "option years." This gives them the option to assign that player
to the minor leagues without requiring him to clear waivers. For each
season thereafter in which the player is assigned to a minor league
team, one option is used up.
When a player is out of options, he can still be assigned to the minor leagues, but first he must clear waivers.
A player can receive a fourth option if he has less than five seasons
of pro experience. Draftees who immediately sign a major league
contract will qualify unless they reach the majors quickly and stick
there. Otherwise, they'll have their three options exhausted after
their first three years in pro ball. A season is defined as any year in
which the player spends 90 days on the active list. Short-season and
Rookie leagues don't last 90 calendar days, so a player assigned to
those leagues for an entire year won't accrue a season of pro
experience. Also if a player has a long-term injury, he usually won't
be credited for a season that year. (The exception is if he goes on the
disabled list after spending 60 days on an active list, in which case
the DL time counts as service time.)
So, my understanding of options was slightly simpler than the actual rule, but I had the gist of it. Samardzija's option for 2009 has already been used, as he has already been promoted from -- and demoted to -- Iowa.
The Cubs play for the series win tomorrow.