If nothing else, the Cubs have continued to provide their fans with some variety over the past two days: after getting walloped on Friday night, they managed to keep it close late in the game on Saturday, only to lose yet again.
I'd like to tell you about the bright spots for the Cubs, but there really weren't any. Derrek Lee hit a three-run homer yesterday, so that's good, but it's his only hit so far in seven at-bats.
The only Cubs to have registered hits in both games were Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin. Colvin tripled on Friday night, and singled last night. He also walked once. Four bases in seven at-bats plus three trips to first in eight plate appearances is representative of a .946 OPS, which is to say that he's been behaving nicely lately. Both of the Byrd's hits were singles, so that's good for a .500 OPS. I suppose those are your three star Cub hitters for the last two games. Joy!
The best pitching appearance of the last two games goes to James Russell. Three strikeouts in two innings, one hit, no walks, no runs... yeah, fine. For the season, Russell has shown pretty excellent control, with 25 strikeouts against just four walks in 31 innings pitched this year. No wonder the Diamondbacks were interested. Going forward he'll have to learn how to limit the long ball (nine allowed this year), which may involve walking a few more batters. But he seems to have the command needed to pitch well into the future.
All in all, a pair of games to forget. From a karmic standpoint, you might say the Cubs and Rockies are even, given their role in one of the most memorable games of 2008.
Now, I'm going to write something about the Cubs' handling of the trade deadline.
At some point I'm going to look up the phrase, "Starting pitcher kept team in game, offense failed to capitalize on opportunities, secondary bullpen pitchers put game out of reach," in different languages, because that's really probably the only way I can continue to give you a varied product when it comes to game recaps.
Randy Wells allowed three earned runs in 5.2 innings yesterday, but two of those came in the sixth on a Carlos Lee home run that was thiiiiis close to going foul. Lee would also homer off Bob Howry later in the game, giving him four ribs on two homers for the day.
The Cubs had a chance to take the lead early, loading the bases with no outs in the first, and with Castro and Colvin getting on in front of Aramis Ramirez with no outs in the third. They had a chance in the fifth too, when Theriot and Castro both singled. Unfortunately, their inability to capitalize was their downfall yesterday.
Of course, that's what you get for playing Fukudome, Nady, and Baker instead of Byrd, Lee, and Soriano.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game, where I'll be on full-fledged CastroWatch: if Castro goes 1-for-4 and Byrd goes 0-for-4, Starlin will take over the team lead in batting average.
And hey, has anybody been traded yet?
"Rough night for Cash," says Chief, and really I'm pretty sure that's all it was.
Neither the Cubs nor the Astros were able to score through the first 6.5 innings of last night's game in Houston. Ted Lilly and, to an even greater extent, Brett Myers were both sharp.
So bottom seven, Andrew Cashner is on the mound, and the kid throws a high-and-inside fastball to Humberto Quintero that, in my mind, the guy could easily have dodged. It looked like he leaned in for a split second before jerking back, and so he got hit. That was a dick move. Classic Rod Stilenovich rally starter.
Alright, so pressure's on, tied scoreless game, 'Stros pinch-run for Quintero with this Jason Bourgeois cat, who's fast. Astro starter Brett Myers is up, looking to lay down the bunt, but before he has a chance to do so, Bourgeois steals 2nd.
This is an appropriate time to relay to you the factoid I heard during last night's broadcast, which is that Koyie Hill is something like 3-for-25 in throwing out base runners this season. If that's true, then what the hell is this guy good at? He certainly can't hit -- and when I say "can't hit," I mean he literally cannot make contact between the bat and the ball. Are we sure Hill is better than Castillo, Chirinos, Clevenger, Brenly, et al?
As for the rest of the inning, a quick sum: Myers bunts, JB goes to 3B with one out. Pinella IBBs Michael Bourn to keep the double play in order, but then Angel Sanchez drops a bunt into the dead zone between Cash and Hill, allowing the fleet-footed JB to score. Hunter Pence singles, Carlos Lee walks, Cash hits Jeff Keppinger with a pitch, and then gives up a grand slam to Lance Berkman.
It was a stressful situation for Cashner, with absolutely zero help provided by the guy behind the plate. Honestly, let's replace Hill with Castillo or whoever like right now.
On the bright side, Tyler Colvin went 2-for-4, with a double and a homer that would lead to the Cubs' only run. Among players with at least 250 plate appearances, Colvin leads the National League in isolated slugging (SLG - AVG, a measure of raw power). And guess who's in last place in the NL? Hint's in the Shout Box.
Finally, I salute Ted Lilly for 3.5 years of brave service to the Cub cause. This guy is a true winner; doesn't have the 93-95mph heater, but clearly wants to win every night so very badly. Whether he ends up with the Twins or the Dodgers (the frontrunners for his services, according to Bruce Miles), I hope he gets the chance to start in the playoffs that he deserved in 2008 but never received.
You will be missed, TRL.
A quality win for the Cubs last night, as everyone pretty much did their job: starter Carlos Silva kept the team in the game for five innings, the bullpen closed up shop while allowing just one run, and the offense scored 4+ runs.
To clarify, I don't give Silva credit for being anything more than a fifth starter, so any time he allows fewer than three runs and pitches five or more innings, he's done his job. And I said "4+" instead of five not just because I'm crazy, but also because I think a major league offense should be expected to score four runs when it wants to win a ball game.
The first four Cub runs came early. Soto doubled in Byrd (who had walked) and Soriano (who had doubled just prior) in the second inning, and in the third, a Byrd ground out brought home Derrek Lee (who had doubled) and a Soriano double brought home Aramis Ramirez (who hit a single to get on base).
Ryan Theriot hit a solo homer for the Cubs' fifth run, doubling his home run output over his last 700 or so at-bats.
Also: double double double double double double double single double double. Double.
Speaking of doubles, guess who else doubled? Starlin Castro! A double!
Darlin' Starlin went 2-for-5, raising his average to .309. He also has an .809 OPS for the year. Did I mention I love him? I mean, if you wanna talk about arbitrarily small sample sizes, look at his numbers since July 10: .463/.473/.704. HE IS BATTING .463 OVER HIS LAST 54 AT-BATS. THIS MEANS HE WILL BE A HALL OF FAMER AND THE CUBS WILL WIN SEVERAL WORLD SERIESES.
That's logic, baby. Go Cubs.
Last night's game was the quintessential example of why it's so hard to sweep a three-game series against a major league team.
The Cubs managed to score three runs against Cardinal starter Chris Carpenter, which is at least two more runs than I expected them to get. And Cub starter Ryan Dempster was equally effective at keeping the Cardinal offense at bay -- even though Albert Pujols went yard again (third time in his last, like, four at-bats against Demp).
This one came down to the bullpens, and when you've won two games in a row, you probably have fewer relief options than you did two days earlier. That was indeed the case for the Cubs last night, as Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol were each limited to one inning, while Andrew Cashner was completely unavailable.
Let me tell ya -- Cashner/Marshall/Marmol is a super end-game trio (and their last names are eerily similar; should we call them Carshol?). But beyond those three, the Cubs don't have many options. Of course, it'd be a different story if Angel Guzman were healthy, and likewise if Jim Hendry had signed Matt Capps instead of John Grabow. But instead, we have Bob Howry and Brian Schlitter, who took the loss last night, allowing the home run to Felipe Lopez in the 11th that would decide the game.
Anybody wanna try and guess what my favorite moment from last night's game was?
It seems like everything but the product on the field has been unbearble for the past two days at the Friendly Confines. Despite oppressive heat and humidity, the Cubs have found a way to take the first two games of the series against the division rival and spawn of satan Cardinals. Let's break it down.
In an opening game that is sure to spawn another book by Tony LaRussa about how much he hates Mark Prior, the Cubs toyed with Jeff Suppan while getting a much needed performance out of Randy Wells. While Dave Duncan is usually the King Midas of reclaimation projects, I think he bit off more than he could chew in the re-signing of Jeff Suppan. The six-inning outing by Suppan was a tie for his longest outing of the year, despite giving up 5 ER and 3 HR. There is just a certain point where a "crafty veteran" loses the craftiness and his stuff just hangs over the plate. If this season between Milwaukee and St. Louis is any indication, Suppan has reached that point.
Tyler Colvin, Geo Soto, and Alfonso Soriano didn't seem to mind the fact that Suppan was toeing the rubber on Friday. In the leadoff role (10 games), Colvin has flourished with a .302/.375/.651 line, accumulating 5 HR and 13 RBI's out of that spot. Those numbers are hard to argue with, but I still stand by my earlier statement that I'd rather see Starlin Castro in the leadoff role due to the speed he brings to the table. Perhaps a flip-flop of Castro and Colvin in the lineup would give us an even more potent 1-2 punch.
Speaking of Castro, he flashed some rare power in the game on Saturday. The fact that we don't see him hit "for power" very often is something that both shocks me and, at the same time, makes me happy. The shock comes from the fact that the swing he put on the ball yesterday was smooth and gorgeous, and it looks like something he could repeat. On the other hand, the lack of power numbers combined with Castro's recent success at the plate show that he is really doing a lot with what is given to him, and not forcing anything.
Cub pitching has also taken center stage with great starting performances by Tommy G and Randy Wells. Moreover, the bullpen, specifically Sean Marshall, has impressed me. As serviceable of a starter Marshall has/could be, the repetoire he brings out of the bullpen is unlike most relievers. The way he can change a hitter's eye level is vital in late game situations.
Overall, it has been a good two days. I'd love to see us take the sweep later tonight. However, our attention should be turned to more important matters right now. One of my childhood idols, and I'm sure many of the readers here feel the same, is being inducted into the Hall of Fame today. While he may not don a hat with a big red "C" upon entry, he will always be a Cub to me, to the game of baseball, and in his own view. Congrats, Hawk: you gave your heart, soul and body to the game of baseball and because of that, you will forever be able to call Chicago home.
Ted Lilly got his first hit of the season in the bottom of the fifth inning yesterday, and Darlin' Starlin Castro (oh, he is just so darlin' indeed) drove him in with a double to left field to give the Cubs the game's first run. Unfortunately, Pedro Feliz would later tie the game, on a solo shot in the top of the eighth. The Cubs' failure to score in the bottom of the eighth suggested the game could be headed for some late inning drama.
Then this happened:
Bottom 9, man on 2nd, no outs; K, 1B, pop fly to center, K.
Bottom 10, bases loaded, one out; K, fly out to left.
Bottom 11, 1st and 2nd with one out; fly out, fly out.
Bob Howry came in to pitch the 12th, allowed two singles to lead off, and had to be relieved by James Russell, who got Michael Bourn out, and then Jeff Stevens, who gave up a double to Jason Michaels which drove in two runs. Then other things happened, but that's the important stuff.
Here's a thought: without a hit from Ted Lilly, the Cubs may have been shut out by the Astros yesterday.
Who's the goat on offense? There are plenty of candidates, but Tyler Colvin went 0-for-6 overall, and looked over-matched at times. He struck out to end the ninth, and flied out to end the game.
Colvin's a mistake hitter with great bat speed and excellent power -- not a lead-off man. You know, it's not his fault the team lost yesterday, but putting him in the spot in the lineup that gets the most plate appearances in a game might be pushing it. Furthermore, the only argument I've heard against putting Castro in the leadoff spot is that he's too young, and should be coddled and allowed to develop. Along those same lines, are there any reasons why Tyler Colvin should be leading off?
First we're not playing Colvin enough, then we're playing him too much. I dunno, maybe I'm just a whiner. Anyways, go Cubs, etc.!
FOR THE SEASON, Geovany Soto has the 12th-highest OPS in ALL of major league baseball, with a .293/.412/.516 line.
In 21 games since coming off the DL in late June, Aramis Ramirez is hitting.354/.393/.817. Yes, that's an .817 SLUGGING percentage.
In the month of July, Starlin Castro is hitting .362/.413/.552. He's sporting a .295 average on the season. How many 20-year olds have hit .300 in the history of MLB?
In the six games since the All-Star Break, Derrek Lee is hitting .423/.444/.692. It's one thing to get to face Phillies and Astros pitching; it's another to make something of the opportunity.
These four were the offensive stars in last night's game. Obviously, the headlines go to Aramis Ramirez, who hit three home runs and drove in seven runs. Just like that, Ramirez has 15 HR on the season, good for a .452 slugging percentage (only Soriano, Soto, Colvin and Byrd have better SLGs on the year). But Soto's game-tying home run, Castro's 3-for-5 with 2 R, 1 RBI, and an SB, Lee's 3 R and 3 RBI on a 2-for-4 night -- this is exciting stuff! I actually like playing the Astros again!
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Dempster did not pitch well last night, although allowing four earned runs in five innings pitched doesn't exactly constitute a meltdown. At the same time, he was extremely hittable (eight allowed), and couldn't strike anyone out (1 K, 4 BB).
Fortunately, our bullpen came through, pitching four shutout innings. Andrew Cashner took the 6th and 7th, Marshall handled the 8th, and Marmol pitched the 9th despite the team's seven-run lead. Marmol only got one K, but my favorite bullpen stat of the night: of 23 pitches thrown in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, 20 went for strikes.
I much prefer an Aramis Ramirez with two good thumbs to one with just one. One thumb bad, two thumbs good! For the record, we still oughta be sellers (and it does sound like Lilly and Theriot will be moved in the next seven days, while Fukudome, Nady and Lee are looking like longer shots). But maybe it'll be fun in the meantime!
Has Carlos Silva run out of steam?
Those who watched last night's game know why I'm asking. For those who missed the Hutt's most recent gem, check this line: 1 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 5 ER, 0 K. Frankly I'm surprised the Astros didn't score more runs, but if there's any team that can get nine base runners in an inning and only score five of them it's them. (If there were two such teams, it'd be them and us, of course.)
Carlos Silva doesn't appear to be in shape, really. I mean, not that I'm much of a beacon of health myself, but come on, this is professional athletics. Starting pitching require full exertion; maybe he's just out of bullets.
Another theory: you know how Larry Rothschild is rumored to have fixed Silva's mechanics, improving his breaking stuff to better complement his fastball? Something about the shoulder being pulled, or pushed, or twisted, or something? I bet that's been causing Carlos pain, which has built up over the course of the season, and is now rendering him unable to pitch effectively.
Behind door number three, another theory: regression. The man pitches to contact, and doesn't have the stuff to get strikeouts when he needs them. Oftentimes, ground balls and pop flies do land in the gloves of your defenders. But sometimes, those balls turn into hits.
So those are some theories for you to chew on. At the same time, Silva could come back in his next start and dominate. I wouldn't hold your breath on that one though! Because I think you might suffocate! Because you'd be waiting a long time for Silva to have a good outing! Because he probably sucks! Do you get my joke? Awesome.
Speaking of recapping the game, the Cubs lost. I guess we had a chance to win after six innings, after an Aramis Ramirez home run made the score 8-5 'Stros. But the 'pen couldn't keep it close, and the offense would end up being done at that point. Pretty typical follow-up to laying a smackdown on Roy Halladay, no?
I just got "We Believe" in the mail via Netflix today so now I'm gonna go watch that. Toodle-oo! Go Cubs!
I agree with Goat Reader George's comment in the Shout Box: This is getting VERY interesting.
Last night, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro were slotted into the first two spots of the lineup, and responded by going 6-for-9 with three runs scored. In the second inning, they collaborated on an almost-double steal, bringing Colvin home from third after Castro's attempt at stealing second.
Indeed, their repeated ability to put the ball in play, and then run really fast towards first base, sparked the offense last night, as did Marlon Byrd's ability to get hit by a pitch -- Phillie starter Halladay plunked him twice, and both times he came around to score.
Speaking of pitching, kudos to Cub pitcher Tom Gorzelanny for posting another decent outing. Two earned runs, five hits, and five strikeouts in 6.2 innings counts for a good effort. The five walks given up aren't exactly helpful, but Tom managed to pitch around his mistakes and keep the team in the game.
Back to the Killer C's for another minute. Even the great Joe Morgan acknowledged these twerps' importance to the future of the franchise -- although, the only skill he could identify for either player was his speed. And it's true, Colvin and Castro are both fast. But I'll go ahead and help Joe out by pointing out the other superior skills had by these two that suggest they deserve more regular responsibility in this line-up. In both cases, it comes down to power.
Tyler Colvin is strong. He doesn't walk a lot, and he strikes out often. But when he does manage to make solid contact, the ball goes far. In fact, Colvin is among the Top 10 in the National League in isolated slugging (ISO), which essentially measures how often a player's base hits go for extras. Colvin's ISO is .255 for the season; for comparison, Alfonso Soriano's team-leading ISO is .272, Geovany Soto's is .212, and Ryan Theriot's is .034.
Starlin Castro's power is not his best skill (yet). It's not top three, really (glove, contact hitting, speed). But even at 20, he's shown line drive ability, with 12 doubles, four triples, and two home runs hit in 211 at-bats. He's not quite walking enough to be considered the ideal leadoff option yet, but on this team, he may already have shown himself to be the best one on the roster. (Corollary: Colvin is not the best leadoff option. He strikes out too often to lead off, and his power is wasted at the top of the order.)
As for tonight's game, the lineup I'd like to see would be: Castro, Soto, Byrd, Aramis, Colvin, Soriano, Lee, Theriot, Pitcher. Call me crazy.
In the meantime, go Cubs!