There was no moment more sickening last night than when the Braves spoiled a Ted Lilly's good performance by tying the game in the 7th. Scratch that -- it got real sickening when it went to extra innings for the second straight night.
It's not that I lack faith in the Cubs' ability to win extra inning games. No, my problem is more that the Cubs bullpen is built of balling wire and bubble gum right now and any game in which they are turned to excessively is a game that will be tough for the team to win.
Fortunately, the Cubs pulled out all the stops pitching-wise, turning to the Marmol-Guzman tandem for 3 straight innings. Marmol in particular has been spotty, especially with his control, but he was balls-to-the-walls last night* and Guzman was his usual untouchable self. I'm pretty sure that it was Goat Reader HarryCaray who proclaimed in Spring that Guzman would be important to the '09 team and so far he's been spot-on in that regard.
(*Disclaimer: I'm not actually sure what "balls-to-the-walls" means)
The only problem is that after the Cubs managed to snatch the lead in the 11th, thanks to a rare Hoffpauir-Lee tandem, Piniella turned to Kevin "Better Dead Than" Gregg for the save. Surprisingly it was mission accomplished. But I'll reiterate what I said yesterday evening... the Cubs need to re-assess their bullpen and Gregg needs a new role. And if even Marmol can't handle the job, then at least the Cubs would know it and could add "closer" to their trade deadline wish list.
Incidentally, I wanted to note that Derrek Lee is now batting .263. Hardly the stuff of legend but not bad for a washed up double play machine. All told every Cub regular except Three Finger got at least one hit last night. The Cubs need to better capitalize on their success at getting on and play for the series win tonight.
UPDATE FROM Yarbage: So, for the second straight night I made my way to the "Ted", only to see an extra inning game. I could really use a blowout tonight, but I doubt we'll get it with the pitching match up.
There were a few things that caught my eye last night from the stands. First off, the Cubs should really hold a bunting practice all day today. I'm not a fan of giving up outs, but if Lou's going to keep sending up people to bunt, they have to get it down. My buddy, Scott Lange, couldn't even watch when Ryan Theriot tried to lay down a bunt late in the game.
I never saw the replay, but it was nice to see Geovanny Soto throw out somebody. At this point, we'll take anything.
Finally, I hope the Braves get some bad luck tonight after cutting Tom Glavine to avoid a roster bonus. The players and fans had no clue that it had happened. We found out from somebody that got to the game about the second inning. I understand that Tommy Hanson is going to be a star, but you just don't treat players that way. If you were going to cut him, then why have him go through all that rehab?
If the rain holds off, I will add something for the game later.
I didn't say it, because I didn't think you could apologize a jinx away. As it turns out, the Cubs didn't need my help in giving this one away.
You know what? We damn well SHOULD win every one of those games. We have guys in the 'pen capable of getting six outs when working with that sort of margin.
We got EVERYTHING we could ask for from this team: seven strong innings from our young starter Randy Wells (he's ACES, isn't he?); home runs from two of our veterans; five runs total from our occasionally inept, consistently inconsistent offense.
We got EVERYTHING--except six outs from a 'pen given a five-run lead.
Whether Marmol stays in the set-up role and Gregg keeps closing, or Lou changes the order in which they're brought out, the fact is, we're going to need BOTH Marmol AND Gregg to pitch a heckuvalot better in the near future if this team's gonna start winning consistently at any point.
Unfortunately for tonight, the result looks like another variation on a common theme from the 2009 season thus far.
Just a few weeks ago, the offense was the problem. So of course it makes sense that, just as the bats start to look like they're getting hot (aside from Soto, who had his bat taken out of his hands at a pivotal point in the game), this happens.
Oh yeah, and "Don't Wake Daddy" (so named because he'll probably pull something if you startle him) strained his calf running out a grounder.
I guess we should try to end on a positive note. Umm... Randy Wells is awesome? Seriously, Wells just keeps rolling. He deserves a ton of credit for giving this team a chance to win each night he's started. I look forward to his next start. Let's get him an effing win sometime soon, huh?
Take a look at Sean Marshall for example. In his first full season as a starter, he's taken the mound in the first inning 8 different times. In each of those 8 appearances, he's thrown 5 or more innings and he's only allowed more than 3 earned runs twice -- on May 5th, when he pitched 7 innings in a loss to San Francisco and yesterday, when he was rocked by the Dodgers.
In other words, Marshall has consistently delivered acceptable performances from the mound. His record for the month of May before yesterday? 3-2, 4.05 ERA. That's good for any 5th starter anywhere in baseball. But because Sean Marshall got beat yesterday, these are the comments of a couple - well, one -- of our readers:
Cubsfanky: Sean Marshall is TRASH!!
So, is this the way it's going to be all year long? A player has an ugly performance and we jump him? Ryan Dempster alternates between good, bad, and ugly outings and we label him a juicer? Milton Bradley begins the year 1 for 23 and we call him selfish? Derrek Lee slumps while he battles a sore neck and we call him washed up? This is how it is now?
On the bright side, the Cubs offense accounted for 9 more hits yesterday but they were only able to draw a solitary walk. Reed Johnson, who is apparently on fire, had another 3-hit game and suddenly finds himself batting .295.
The bullpen also threw 4.2 innings of shutout relief, stopping the Dodgers offense cold. They struck out 8 over that span too.
As for Sean Marshall, fans of Randy Wells couldn't have asked for a different performance. It should be a tough decision for Lou to make once Rich Harden comes back as to whether or not Wells stays in the rotation and Marshall shores up the pen or vice versa. A few more strong outings from Wells, coupled with a few more bad or ugly outings from Marshall and Lou's decision will be easy.
Current Record: 25-24
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 4.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 138-24
Worst Possible Record: 25-137
Record needed to win 110: 85-28
On Pace For: 83-79
The Cubs and the Dodgers. Two teams, evenly matched, who always play close games with high drama - until today. Today, L.A. rolled over, closed their eyes, and pretended to be in a far away land while the Cubs went to town on them for 7 runs. The details are as follows...
The Questionable Quartet
Combined, they went 6 for 12 with 4 walks, 2 doubles, a triple, 2 RBI and 2 runs scored. Individually, Bradley went 3 for 4, all singles (we'll take them), Soto was hitless but drew 2 more walks and Mike Fontenot has his best game in about a month.
Other key contributors include Reed Johnson who also collected 3 hits including a homerun. In total the Cubs notched 10 hits, walked 7 times, and ran away with the game.
The Perplexing Pitcher
Ryan Dempster -- who has been little hit and lotta miss this year -- went 7 strong innings, surrendering only 3 hits and walking 1. He was spelled by Guzman and Heilman, who gave up 2 hits and 1 walk in their 2 innings of shutout relief.
At this point, we know a few things about Dempster. First -- he's been bad, but some of it has been poor luck. Second, he's not going to win 17 games. He probably won't even win 15. But he is not toast by any means. It's conceivable that Dempster will end the year with a sub 4 ERA ... even if it's not likely.
The Cubs go for the series win tomorrow. If they accomplish it, don't scoff. The Dodgers are a tough team no matter where they play. For a streaky-but-slumping Cubs team to handle them so effectively would be an accomplishment, not to mention a sign of things to come.
At this time last year, the Cubs faced the Dodgers in a home series which they swept. The final score of that 3-game series? Cubs 8, Dodgers 3. At this point in a 4 game series neither team is on pace to score 8 runs.
The difference between this year and last year is that after the Cubs barely scraped past L.A., the Dodgers went out and acquired a game-changer who helped them trounce the Cubs in October. Who knows if the Cubs will even get to the playoffs but hopefully they've got something up their sleeves to change the scenario a bit.
This game is what we could conservatively call a "snoozer." No team scored a run until the 7th, when both squads exploded for a combined 3 scores. Matt Kemp briefly gave the Dodgers the lead before Three-Finger tied it up. The Cubs then managed to load the bases on one out before Fukudome sac-flied the winning run. Not exactly high-noon drama.
Roosevelt continues to pitch well out of the rotation, going 7 strong, allowing 4 hits, 3 walks, and striking out 5. He was relieved by Marmol and Gregg who combined to allow 1 hit and 2 walks in 2 innings of relief, but without any score. Marmol's control issues remain concerning.
Nevertheless, a win tomorrow for the Cubs guarantees a split. Although both teams have had dry offenses, and despite the fact that L.A. is one of the best teams in baseball right now, I fully expect the Cubs to do better than that.
In the early months of the 2009 baseball season, a crack baseball team was sentenced to numerous ejections by the MLB disciplinary committee for infractions they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from their maximum suspension sentences to the Chicago underground. Today, still wanted by baseball's authorities, they survive as athletes for hire. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... the C-Team.
These Cubs. If you're not a fan of them to begin with they seem awfully hard to love. When Milton Bradley isn't "bumping" umpires and complaining about a conspiracy against him, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, and Carlos Zambrano are all trying like hell to get themselves ejected and suspended. Today was Zambrano's turn.
After arguing angrily with an umpire in the 7th inning, the Moose was ejected for "bumping" the ump -- who, based on the footage I saw, stepped into Carlos. Upset by the obvious ruse to get him tossed, Carlos promptly did the only sensible thing: he ejected the umpire, returned to the dugout, and beat the holy hell out of a gatorade cooler.
Apart from the likelihood that Mr. Z is looking at probably a 7 to 10 game suspension, I have to admit ... that was pretty freaking cool. Sorry, I know, he needs to start acting like an adult and all, but c'mon. Can you blame him?
I respectfully direct you to early June, 2007. An angry Carlos Zambrano pummels his teammate and catcher. The team's manager has a legendary fit with an umpire and gets ejected. And that was when a team 9 games under .500 started to roll. Carlos must be sick of waiting on Lou Piniella because after his amazing flip-out the Cubs -- who had been offensively inadequate -- scored 3 runs in the 8th and won the game and the series against the Pirates.
Speaking of the offense, maybe I'm wrong but it seems to me that Reed Johnson is perhaps stepping up and filling the leadership role the Cubs have lacked the past few years. He apparently told Milton Bradley the other day that M.B. doesn't have to shut down his at bat just because the umpire blows a call -- resulting in a resurgent Don't Wake Daddy (who went 1 for 3 today with a walk and a triple) -- and he hit a clutch go-ahead homer after Zambrano's ejection.
The Cubs also saw 3 more hits from Ryan Theriot and they were greeted by Jake Fox who hit a pinch hit, run-scoring double. Fox is going to be interesting. He can't play defense but he can hit the ball a mile.
All told, it was a harder win than it looked and a more interesting and entertaining game than we could have expected. The Cubs head tomorrow into a match-up against the Dodgers who have been hot as hell despite missing their star slugger.
And am I concerned about Zambrano's meltdown? Nope. I've been to this party before. The last time it happened, it was Lou doing the flip-out. I misread the situation, thought he'd lost the team and the season was over and immediately found myself proven wrong. So no worries here with Carlos ... even if he misses a little bit of time and grows a mo-hawk.
Current Record: 23-22
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 4 games out
Best Possible Record: 140-22
Worst Possible Record: 23-139
Record needed to win 110: 87-30
On Pace For: 83-79
One thing for sure - based on the last two games, the Cubs offense has finally revitalized a little. In a rain-soaked (and shortened) game, the Cubs scored 6 in 5 innings. Every Cubs regular got on base at least once except Ryan Freel, while the Questionable Quartet -- or at least, the half that played -- were key contributors to the offense.
Milton Bradley was 0 for 1 with 2 walks and a run scored and Mike Fontenot went 2 for 3, raising his AVG back up to .219 (hey, we'll take it).
Also, Kosuke Fukudome continues to be on pace to out-slug his '07 self, after hitting his 5th homerun of the year in the 1st.
Sean Marshall, meanwhile, continues to prove that he was a good choice to start. He got a cheap Complete Game (although I suspect they won't "count" it as such in his stats), dropped his ERA to 3.70, and struck out 6.
The Cubs play in the rubber game today -- something we haven't been able to look forward to in a long, long time.
Bad news, they still lost by 2 runs. Let's look at the negatives first:
If you'd listen to some of our more negative readers, then you'd learn
- that Dempster is a suspected growth-injector (how else do you explain his great 2008 and his poor 2009?)
- that the Cubs should have let the Braves sign him and take the draft pick (because in Chicago they shouldn't reward good play with contracts, but if they'd let him go then Henry would have been painted as somebody who doesn't try and fans would have lamented the loss of a clubhouse leader)
- that he sucks and is done for.
Cubs fans. Guh. Nevertheless, he sure did have a bad outing last night.
Lou Pineilla, you do not need a lefty in your bullpen if that lefty is Neal Cotts. He's got a 7.36 ERA. He's finished. Let him go.
He's looking a lot like last year's Heilman, rather than the Heilman of years before. After another rough outing yesterday his ERA is now 5.49 and he is on the Can't Be Trusted list.
All told it was a complete failure of the pitching staff -- who had previously been doing well in these trying times. But at least the Cubs offense let us know they're alive. The positives:
After a huge, HUGE slump, Theriot busted out with a 3 for 5 (all 3 hits doubles) game.
While slowly descending into insanity, Bradley went 2 for 5 with a homer and double raising his AVG to a Neifi-esque .198!
Soto also collected 2 hits, raising his AVG to a plump .214.
All told, the Cubs walked 7 times on top of their 10 hits and they scored a lot of runs. But who really knows ... I suppose it's possible that they are indeed going to bat .160 as a team for the rest of the season and lose pretty much every single game.
Or -- hear me out -- or, just maybe this is a very bad bump on a very long road. But as I've said... it makes sense to worry. There are some problems that need to be fixed. But to give up? Now? Seriously?
If the Cubs are the team we follow then we are Ron Santo forever living that horrible moment in 1998 when Brant Brown dropped the lazy fly ball. We moan, we lament our torturous lives, and there is such despair in our fandom that any clinical observer would look upon us and see living proof of a contradiction. Maybe that's why we so fiercely defend him against his detractors. For good or bad he's us.
Tonight -- and lately -- Ron Santo has not been alone. This isn't the way it was supposed to be. 42 games into the season -- just over a full quarter of the campaign -- and the Cubs are a .500 ball team riding a 7 game losing streak in which they averaged 1.43 runs per game during that time.
Everybody but one man has gone cold, and that one man is playing with something you can't really get by on scott free -- a damaged neck. But I suppose that I remain shockingly calm and amazingly unworried because looking at the Cubs lineup I see a team that is way, way, way better than 1.43 runs per game.
So if your plan is to go cliff-jumping based on the past week of play, based on basically an anomoly of team-wide offensive slumber, then you must also be the kind of person to assume that significant others are dumping you just because they didn't call you when they usually do. (Or worse, perhaps they're dead. That's the kind of worry train that you're rolling on.)
That isn't to say that there aren't reasons to be concerned. There are reasons. We'll talk about that on Monday or Tuesday. But before I actually, y'know, recap the loss, I'll leave you with this one thought.
We spent 2007 with butterflies and damaged nerves because they played down to the wire and snuck in at the end of the season. The entire time, we -- or at least I -- complained loudly about how the Cubs never make it easy.
Then we watched in awe in 2008 when they locked it up basically in August as they surged toward the best team record since 1945. Finally, we had our easy season. Still, they were swept in October.
There is no mathematical formula to winning in the playoffs and there is no such thing as a superlative season. I don't know if teams need rough patches in order to know how to win under pressure later on, but that idea is ludicrous and implies that 25 grown men who've all been there before 2009 somehow forgot between past seasons and this one. But I do know that rough patches are a part of the game and it seems like the best team rarely wins the World Series. So let the Cubs be underdogs, scrambling, fighting, and climbing their way up. Let them scrap for it.
Subtract the "s" from "scrap" and that's what we had on Sunday. Ted Lilly got hammered, Aaron Heilman helped, the Cubs offense walked not once and nobody had more than 1 hit.
Maybe it's time for a classic Lou Piniella Wake Up! moment. I suspect it's coming.
The New Recap Logo
I'm just tinkering, in case you were wondering. I frankly like the previous logo better but I've got big plans and if they turn out to be possible then the Cubs scoreboard as we've been 'chopping it would look confusing on the site. You'll see what I mean soon enough.
Current Record: 21-21
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 4 games out
Best Possible Record: 141-21
Worst Possible Record: 21-141
Record needed to win 110: 89-31
On Pace For: 81-81
Throughout this entire losing streak, the Cubs' pitchers have really found a groove.
In particular, Randy Wells continues to be a joy to watch on the mound. Sure, the scoreless streak is over, but his "Extra Base Hits Per Start" rate (it's an official stat, look it up!) remains below one. Wells allowed just one double in last night's game, a double to Brian Giles in the 4th inning. And seven strikeouts to just one walk? I like it.
The offense? It's just bad timing. We had more base runners than the opponent, and, for once, more home runs. But Derrek Lee hit his HR at the wrong time, and we only managed to score once.
Anyone realize we still have a winning record this month? It's on the line in today's game, however.