Rich Harden, our team's supposed best-stuff pitcher, squared off against Cliff Lee and turned it into a one-sided pitching duel. It was 7 to 0 in the 5th, Mark DeRosa had heart-breakingly contributed to the bloodshed, and Harden was brushed aside like a fly.
At that point it was evident. The Cubs were done for. The season was wasted. I mean, if the Cubs get blown out at home by one of the worst teams in the AL then what chance do they have against some of the best teams in the NL?
Anyway, it wasn't a total waste. Once the game was out of reach the offense showed some sparks of life. Reed Johnson made the first score in the 5th with a solo homerun, and then Derrek Lee contributed a solo shot in the 6th. In the latter situation, Lee was not the first at bat in the inning. If Bradley was able to actually hit the ball regularly or get on base, then it may have been a more meaningful two run homer, but we all know Bradley is a waste.
Speaking of Lee, I have to say that upon reflection, you were all right. At the end of the '08 season, and again in the Spring and early parts of April, a number of fans had proclaimed that he was washed up and should be replaced by Hoffpauir. I admit that I defended Lee strongly at the time, citing Hoffpauir's old age and fluke-until-proven-otherwise status, but I was wrong. While he hit a meaningless homerun in the 6th, Derrek Lee is not the player he once was.
(Sorry, I couldn't help myself up until now)
It wasn't until the 8th inning -- with two outs against them -- that the Cubs began to play like they should have played all year long. The unlikely heroes of the inning were Andres Blanco, who singled home 2 runs with 2 outs, Koyie Hill, who was safe thanks only to a fielding error by Peralta (and, consequently, who scored Reed Johnson on the play) and Alfonso Soriano, who singled home Blanco. Suddenly, just like that, it was a 7-6 game. Not to worry, the Indians survived the onslought and had their closer ready to finish off the Cubs.
It just figures that much as Mark DeRosa would play an important part in the game for Cleveland by going 1 for 3 with an RBI and 2 walks, Kerry Wood would step in to extinguish a comeback attempt in the 9th. He probably would've done it, too, had it not been for that damned Derrek Lee.
Mr. Lee, who went 3 for 5 on the day with a double hit his second homer of the day, still a solo shot but this time a game-tying one to boot. Does that remind you of anything that has happened before? Well, it wasn't on ABC, and the Cubs weren't facing the Cardinals, but an ex Cub closer was on the mound and he did serve up the second homerun hit by a Cubs star, resulting in a tie game and elevating Cub fans everywhere. And then just like in 1984, a scrappy middle infielder singled home the winning run in the 10th ... also off of an ex Cub pitcher Luis Vizcaino.
Oh, and before I forget -- he scared us in the 10th, but Kevin Gregg managed to load the bases and send them home without damage. I just wanted to note that.
Derrek Lee now has a .285 AVG on the season, he's hit 11 homeruns, and for a little while at least he's justified batting him third in the lineup. We have modestly criticized Lee in the past for not being a team leader, and I still don't think he's one in the traditional sense. But if he wants to lead by example the rest of the way, and if he wants to elevate the team with his bat at every given opportunity then you won't hear complaints from this peanut gallery.
I don't know why but for some reason my Game Recap got eaten. So this will be an even shorter, abbreviated version of my already short, abbreviated Game Recap.
The Cubs, they did not score many runs.
Alfonso, he had another 0-fer.
Dempster, he didn't pitch like an ace, walking 6 and striking out 4.
In terms of the stories that dominated the day at GROTA, as far as I'm concerned the mini-blog war is over (which will not stop our terrific friends over at Another Cubs Blog from making their snarky comments, but I do derive a ridiculous amount of pleasure knowing that they read me while I would sooner crap into a diaper and smear it all over my head than read them) and, speaking of craps-into-diapers, regarding Lou:
As far as the anti-Lou, he must be fired sentiment goes, I am apparently alone. Actually I'm a little shocked at how teflon Lou has been in this situation considering that he's the rebound manager from The Worst Managing Experience of Our Lives. You'd think that once we're cynical we'd stay that way but I guess two years of winning slaps blinders on even the most scrutinous pair of eyes.
I'll save my Lou rhetoric for a post coming to a blog near you tomorrow morning, but I do have a few questions I'd love to have answered: what would Lou need to do for you to lose faith in him? And how responsible is he -- and managers in general -- for the output of his team?
Anyway. The Cubs lost today, dropping to 4 out of first and 1 below .500. But don't worry - nobody appears keen on winning in the NL Central. Tomorrow, they play for revenge!
On paper, these guys are outstanding. Their catcher is a damned-near .300 hitter capable of hitting more than 20 bombs. They've got a first baseman capable of batting .290 and hitting 20 homers. Their lefty second baseman is scrappy with surprising power for his size. Their shortstop gets on base at a terrific clip and can steal 30. Their third baseman can put up MVP caliber numbers. So can their left fielder, who is easily capable of hitting 40 homeruns if he stays healthy. Their center fielder may be a better than .300 hitter, and their right fielder led the AL in OPS last year.
Except Soto is a shell, Lee and Fontenot have struggled, Theriot is hit and miss, Ramirez is on the DL, Soriano has suffered from a month long slump, Fukudome is the cream puff of the outfield (empty calories, leaves you unfulfilled), and Bradley is a first-year bust.
With the exception of Theriot and his surprising power numbers nobody is hitting the way we thought they could. Nobody (except Theriot). Much as the '08 team surprised us with a Fukudome-excepted offensive bounty, the '09 team are the pantie-wastes of the National League. Even yesterday's win was disappointing -- and it was a win. Against three pitchers who began the day with a combined ERA of 5.56 the Cubs managed to score 3 runs. How the hell does that happen every single game?
Jim Hendry responded to the team's offensive druthers by firing Gerald Perry. I would have preferred that he trade for another, better bat. But for a team that will often times hold onto a coach until the bitter end it's a sign of progress. It tells us that like us, like Murtaugh, they are not having any of this shit.
Three-or-so weeks ago I wrote an article in which I explained what it would take for me to raise the white flag on the season. I'll remind you: 10 games under .500, 10 games out of a playoff spot. The Cubs are neither of these things. But they are a .500 team with no life in their veins, thanking the lord for the one bit of luck he gave them: a weak NL Central. This division will probably go to the first team to win 90 and Chicago remains only 2.5 games out.
Still, I don't need to see them drop to 10 games under .500 -- or 10 games out of a playoff spot -- to know that this team has me feeling sick to my stomach. As a stupid, average fan I have no idea how to fix what's broken. I just know that it's not right.
Current Record: 30-30
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 132-30
Worst Possible Record: 30-132
Record needed to win 110: 80-22
On Pace For: 81-81
Alright, we get it.
The Cubs starting pitchers are awesome, the relievers are OK--and the hitters just can't hit.
This is the 13th of the last 23 games where the Cubs have scored two or fewer runs.
Most of the Riders are busy this weekend (something about weddings and wives), so we're opening up this "recap" to you, the Goat Readers.
Question: How do we get this offense back on track?
The Astros were held to five runs in this series, and they somehow managed to steal two games. Damn you, Geoff Blum!
There are plenty of positives to take from this series. For one, the starting pitching continues to be outstanding. If I understand how to use these interwebs things correctly, then I'm right in saying that the Cubs now lead the major leagues in ERA from starting pitchers. For those of us that have been watching all year, that's really not all that hard to believe. The starting pitching has been by far the strongest suit of the 2009 Cubs.
No, it's not the starting pitching that's keeping the Cubs down. Lately, and particularly in these past three games, it wasn't even the bullpen that kept the Cubs out of the Winner's Circle. Another positive--we got a lot of good innings from our relievers.
The problem is these Cubs can't figure out how to freakin' score.
Fortunately for Lou, I've got some really excellent ideas on how to help the Cubs get it in gear and consistently score some runs! (How generous am I?!)
For one, based on preliminary results from the poll, it looks like most people agree that Alfonso Soriano should not be hitting lead-off for the Cubs right now. His average in June is below .200, he is swinging at bad pitches, he's not drawing walks--and yet he continues to get the most plate apperances of any Cub hitter every single game. This is ludicrous, right?
Second, I cannot understand how this team is better off with Aaron Miles, Bobby Scales AND Andres Blanco over Jake Fox. Frankly, I think Scales is every bit the ball player that Miles is, and that Hendry wasted $4 million in adding Miles to the team. Having said that, carrying both is a mistake (I prefer Blanco over the other two because, aside from today's error, he's flashed a pretty good glove over at short). And what happens when Ryan Freel gets healthy? Gah!
My last idea is probably my best one. Let's FORCE Aramis Ramirez to get healthy really quickly. That way, he can crush our opponents' hopes tomorrow, instead of a month from now. Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?
If we continue to get such excellent starting pitching throughout the season, the wins will come. But until the offense comes around, it'll be more of this crap every couple weeks.
Current Record: 29-27
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 135-27
Worst Possible Record: 29-133
Record needed to win 110: 81-25
On Pace For: 83-79
The Great Carlos Zambrano was, as they say, "super awesome." He pitched eight innings tonight, allowing just one run, and gave the Cubs every opportunity to win tonight's game.
Unfortunately, the offense just wasn't there.
Well, let me clarify that statement--it was kinda there. The Cubs did collect five hits and two walks over the course of Wandy Rodriguez' seven innings. Unfortunately, the only guy that crossed home plate was Geovany Soto, and he got there himself by hitting the ball out of the park.
A game like this one begs a few questions. First, does it suck that Angel Guzman could hardly get an out in the ninth inning? Sure. But can you pin this one on him? I kinda think not. When your team scores one run in a nine-inning game, you can't really blame the pitchers.
Second: Are repeated occurrences of this sort of offensive drought avoidable? Not entirely, no. But Kurt has an idea that needs to be re-stated, reviewed, and then tattooed on to every Cub fan's forehead: HIT SORI LOWER!
Alfonso Soriano has been reeeeally bad lately. And he's also been getting the largest number of plate appearances in every game he's played in. He can't possibly hit any worse than he's been hitting lately; why not give the "middle-of-the-order" experiment another shot?
And finally: How awesome is Carlos Zambrano? The answer is, really, really awesome. As in, like, super awesome. It's just too bad that his stellar performance was wasted, although he has now lowered his ERA to 3.39.
The Cubs play the rubber game tonight.
Brian Moehler sucks. Before tonight's game, he'd allowed 10 earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched against the Cubs this season. He was no better tonight, giving up another five runs in just three innings.
His replacements fared no better, as the Cubs feasted on Astro pitching. Five Cubs ended the night with multiple hits, and a couple of young-and-struggling types in particular boosted their numbers with great hitting.
Mike Fontenot went 4-for-5 on the night, including a double and his sixth home run. And right on cue, Geovany "I love you, Rob!" Soto went 3-for-5. Unfortunately for Soto, however, while a three-hit night is great for the OBP, he'll need more than singles to return to his '08 form.
On the other side of the ball, Ted Lilly pitched a great game, and was an out away from a sub-3.00 ERA on the season. Furthermore, after being given a big lead, Aaron Heilman and Sean Marshall both threw strikes, giving up a combined zero walks.
There was really only one negative aspect to tonight's game.
That was having to watch Milton Bradley try to remember how to hit major league pitching throughout the game. Bradley ended up leaving ten men on base, going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts and at least one weakly hit pop-fly in foul territory that I remember.
Am I worried? No, not really. In fact, I'm HAPPY! The Cubs looked great tonight, and I hope it's a sign of better things to come.
Minute Maid Park has to be the weirdest in baseball. How many ground rule doubles do they have a year? Even Ted Lilly hit a triple! Ted Lilly! A triple! Afrghth!1! And yet, on a night when the Cubs offense was cracking, the Astros nearly got no-hit by Lilly... again.
Ryan Theriot and Milton Bradley -- who is returning from another near-miss with the DL -- were the only two Cub regulars to miss out on the party.
Anyway, it takes more than one big game to turn a team's offensive woes around but two or three more would be nice. Nicer still would be an adjustment to the lineup, dropping the Fonz to cleanup or 5th, but I digress...
Randy Wells -- who I now think looks more like Sam from True Blood than K-Fed -- delivered another strong performance. He went 6.2 innings, surrendering 2 runs off of 7 hits and 1 walk. And thanks to the offensive contributions of Ryan Theriot and Derrek Lee, he exited the game in the 7th with another shot at his first win.
Then, Carlos Marmol came in and walked the only 2 batters he faced. Wisely Lou yanked him immediately -- Piniella really needs to start getting stiff with Marmol -- and while Aaron Heilman managed to mostly get the Cubs out of a bases-loaded jam, he was unable to do it before allowing one run to be sac flied-in by ex-Ray Johnny Gomes. More on this play later. With that run went Randy's win, and so our troubles began.
Between the 9th and 14th innings, the Cubs had multiple opportunities to score. They left multiple runners on in all but the 12th inning. They made numerous bonehead plays, like when Theriot botched a hit-and-run with Blanco by striking out, resulting in a double play. In reality the Cubs sloppy offensive play contributed toward this simple conclusion: they did not deserve to win today.
This conclusion is supported by the sloppy defensive play too. In the 8th when the Reds tied it up, Reed Johnson failed to throw a caught ball to the right base resulting in a loss of a double play opportunity. It didn't directly come back to bite the Cubs on the ass but Reed's pointless attempt to gun out Nix at third is just one example of the defense not playing good, fundamental baseball.
Nevertheless, once Marmol was chased into the showers the bullpen did its job rather well. Gregg, Ascanio, Patton, and Guzman combined to give the Cubs six innings of scoreless ball. On a team in which the bullpen is one of the weakest points they delievered. They were able to keep the game tied until the Cubs offense woke up, exploding for 3 runs against the depleted Reds in the 14th. Soriano homered, Fontenot drove in Theriot, and Reed doubled in Fukudome. Just like that an excrutiating game turned into a late blow-out.
So, now the Cubs are in third place. They next travel to Houston to take on the hapless Astros who, despite their haplessness are almost as close to the Cubs as the Cubs are to the Brewers. Just some perspective for ya.
Current Record: 28-26
Position in the NL Central: 3rd place, 3.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 136-26
Worst Possible Record: 28-134
Record needed to win 110: 82-26
On Pace For: 84-78
It's pretty ridiculous on the surface. Ryan Dempster gave the Cubs 6 solid innings of 6-hit, 2 walk baseball. He struck out 7. He lowered his ERA to 4.12. But because Mike Fontenot mishandled a ball in the first the Cubs were trailing from the get-go.
Amazingly, they would then pitch nine consecutive innings of shut-out ball, including efforts from Aaron Heilman, Carlos Marmol, and Angel Guzman while slowly nicking away at the Reds' lead. Bobby Scales! would homer, Geo Soto would homer, and even the seldom-used Jake Fox sac-flied in a run.
Then in the 11th Sean Marshall lost it. He walked Jay Bruce, advanced him to second on a wild pitch, walked Ray Hannigan, and then Bruce scored on another Fontenot error.
Its not Mark DeRosa I miss, as he is presently leading all AL third basemen in errors, but instead it's Aramis Ramirez himself.
The thing is, I understand that the Cubs offense is sluggish and they are trying to get their best hitters in the lineup but Fontenot can't possibly be the best fielding third baseman on the team. No way. I wonder if he's even better than Fox (I assume he must be). Why not leave him at second base even if third becomes an offensive vacuum?
Anyway, it's no third place for the Cubs although a win today could put them within percentage points. But the Reds are not a good team. The Cubs could have swept, perhaps they should have, and last night's loss was a heart-breaker.
The story of the season -- for good or bad -- has become Carlos Zambrano. On the day in which he won his 100th game of his career the Moose declared his intentions to retire ... in four or five years.
It probably stems from a pretty frustrating two weeks for Carlos. He's been ejected, suspended, fined, disciplined, criticized, and his children apparently dumped his comic book collection into the bath water*. On the heels of all that he went out and had a no-hitter through the 5th inning plus he hit what turned out to be the game-deciding homerun.
(*may not be true)
I dunno. Maybe Cub fans want that stoic ace, that guy who just goes in there and does his job. Maybe they want him to expressionlessly deliver bland, cliche-riddled interviews. But not me. I like my players to have color**. I want that guy who wins a big game and in the press conference says all sorts of funny, nasty things about his now-defeated opponents. I want that guy who will charge a mound without hesitation if he knows he's getting thrown at. And, sure, I want that guy who's so deranged that he'll threaten to retire in five years -- but maybe it's four years, because he doesn't even know when his contract is up*** -- on the heels of collecting his 100th career win in dominating fashion.
(**not intended to refer to racial preferences in sports
***because he's just that cRaZee)
I'm probably alone in that. But think back. If you could have the boringest pitcher ever Steve Traschel with Zambrano's talent or Zambrano himself, who would you pick?
Me, I'd take the guy who curses at God in Spanish every single time.