I think we can call that one a bit unexpected. Five days after serving up 4 homeruns and 5 earned runs in 5 innings pitched, Ted Lilly took the mound for the first time at Wrigley Field and proceeded to hold the Rockies hitless until the 7th inning.
All told, Theodore Roosevelt "Psycho" Lilly went 6.2 innings, striking out 8, walking 2, and allowing only that 1 hit on 104 pitches. Meanwhile You-bald-ho, who threw shutout ball his last time out, walked 6 and failed to get out of the 4th inning, although he and the Rockies did escape numerous bases-loaded situations.
Amazingly the Cubs bullpen was mostly competent this time around. Angel Guzman, Aaron Heilman, and Kevin Gregg tossed 2.1 innings, allowing 0 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 4. Considering the circus he's been managing, Lou will take it.
Offensively, the only two Cubs not to get hits are ironically the two who've been the most successful. Ryan Theriot had his first 0-fer of the year and Mike Fontenot also failed to get a hit while starting third base for the first time in '09. The Fonz, meanwhile, collected 2 hits along with Derrek Lee (who drove in another run) and Three Finger Hill (who is now batting .300 on the season).
The Cubs also managed to draw 9 walks today, leaving most of them stranded (proving Dusty Baker's "base-clogging" manifesto to be right again). Among the regular walkers were Fooky (who walked three times) and Lee (who walked twice).
It was a dominating performance for Cubs pitching. Maybe that shouldn't be too surprising - after all, it was also a blisteringly crappy day weather wise and I'm pretty sure that Rockies manager Clint Hurdle intentionally got tossed so he could escape to the theoretically warmer comforts of the clubhouse. (Little did he know that the heater doesn't work in the Wrigley Field visitor's clubhouse.)
The Cubs have tomorrow off and will look for the pseudo-sweep on Wednesday.
Pre-Recap Update - By this time tomorrow, hopefully, the Zambran-0-Meter 2009 edition will be up on the site along with an article loudly proclaiming my prediction of 110 wins and World Series dominance. So if you are superstitious and have a weak stomach, you might want to avoid GROTA for a while.
The Cubs leave Milwaukee with another series win, following another offensive explosion - this one of the less likely kind, a defensive gem, and a diaper-filling appearance by Kevin Gregg. Let's break it down:
Offense - For the first time that I can remember, the Cubs had more runs - all earned - than hits. It all happened thanks to the disintegration of Jeff Suppan in the 4th, when he hit one batter, walked a guy, surrendered a single, and then proceeded to walk the next 3 batters he faced. He was then yanked for Jorge Lugo who also walked home a run before escaping.
I'm sure that it's not too uncommon for a team to have more runs than hits - maybe even a lot more runs than hits like the Cubs, but it's still a pretty weird line. I'm sure that if Dusty was still managing the Cubs, he would've have frustratingly called for his hitters to be more aggressive after the first or second guy got walked home. Let's be happy that the Cubs are a much better disciplined team these days.
As for runs earned "legitimately," the Fonz selfishly led off the game with a homerun, Theriot doubled home Fontenot in the 5th, and Three Finger Hill doubled home Theriot in the 9th. Oh, and Derrek Lee sac-flied Joey Gathright in the 8th, giving him 2 RBI to go along with 0 hits. Go figure.
I had a small debate with AJ in the sbox about Lee. AJ noted that in a 1 out situation with a runner on 1st and 3rd, he'd rather see Hoffpauir at the plate than Lee because Derrek is far more likely to hit a ground ball. I disagree with that, though.
It's true that Lee hits more grounders - almost twice as many, on average - because high strikeout players will always be prone to hit fewer balls on the grass. But it's also true that, on average, Lee has been a good hitter who's batted .290 or better in most of his years with the Cubs, meaning that while he'll hit more ground balls he'll also be more likely to get ground ball hits. The double play stigma attached to Lee's reputation is an example of overthinking. GDP's tend to occur by chance more often than not, not because a hitter is "prone" or "declining." I'd be a little surprised if Derrek hit as many GDP's in '09, and if he is indeed a better hitter than Hoffpauir - and slow start notwithstanding, he is a better hitter than Hoffpauir - then I'd take the guy who's more inclined to actually get a hit every day over the guy who's bound for striking out big.
Incidentally, Milton Bradley came up lame running the bases in the 4th inning, which allowed for Reed Johnson to make an entrance that would be incredibly memorable, but more on that in a minute.
Bradley, incidentally, has a tight right groin ::shudders:: but is listed as day-to-day.
The Pitching - Ryan Dempster is escaping with mediocre stuff right now. In the first inning, he loaded the bases with one out and, despite tossing a wild pitch, escaped with one run allowed. In the third inning, he allowed 2 men on without permitting either to score. In the fourth he served up a solo homerun before striking out the next 3 batters. Then came the fifth inning. This one deserves it's own paragraph.
In the fifth inning, Dempster gave up singles to Ricky Weeks and Craig Counsell before hitting Ryan Braun to load the bases for the fat-but-dangerous Prince Fielder. Fielder then proceeded to crank a blast to deep right field, where Reed Johnson - fittingly subbing for the sore Bradley - made a running catch which robbed Fielder of a game-tying Grand Slam.
Desipio participant section242 said it best ... The Prince literally tipped his cap to Reed. When he did he revealed a half eaten donut under his hat.
It's very likely that had Soul Patch not been in the game, that ball would've been a goner. Let's call it a Serendipitous Injury and move on.
Amazingly enough, Dempster gave up only 2 runs that inning, escaped, and came back to pitch a scoreless 6th. Then, having decided to take the more conservative route, Lou actually picked - and used - one reliever per inning. Marshall pitched a scoreless 7th, Marmol pitched a dominating 8th, and Kevin Gregg stepped in and pitched a gut-wrenching, vomit-inducing 9th. Having gotten the first 2 outs of the inning with apparent ease, Gregg served up a homerun to Ricky Weeks, a double to Craig Counsell and a walk to Ryan Braun. Then, with Prince Fielder again up and ready to do some game-tying damage, Gregg managed to strike him out to end the inning.
I'm sure Lou had a few choice words for him after that. Odds are, Gregg isn't going to be immediately demoted to middle relief, but he's probably got about two weeks to right his ship. Then again, Piniella is older and crankier than me. It may only be 2 more appearances before the change is made.
After opening the series with a 1-run loss that should have been a win, the Cubs took the next two games and are now 4-2 on the year. Two road series victories to kick off the year is a good start. Now they just have to prove they can win at home again.
Current Record: 4-2
Position in the NL Central: half a game behind St. Louis for the lead
Best Possible Record: 160-2
Worst Possible Record: 4-158
On Pace For: 108-54
Yesterday we saw more of the same: the hitters who've been hitting kept on hitting, the hitless stayed mystified, and the reliever's sucked. And yet, through all of this, the Cubs won yet again (I say "yet again" as it they haven't won slightly more than half of their games).
So tell me kids, what do we make of the new Kosuke? I mean, he started pretty damn hot last year too and we saw what happened there. So is he simply prone to having the inevitable hot streak at the start of the season, or did he really just wear down at the end of the season, as indicated by Uncle Lou and the rest of the staff? Obviously I don't know the answer, but he has been showing great power so far this year, with his second homer and third double of the season. That puts him on pace for a 65 homer season with 97 doubles, which would be the best power shown by a Japanese import since Hideki Matsui.
Other notable performances included the first three walks of the season for Little Mike Fontenot, another two hit game for Impressively Dim Ryan Theriot, and a dramatic, ninth inning homer by Supremely Clutch Alfonso Soriano. In fact, it was all pretty good, if the Cubs didn't have to try to get outs beyond the sixth inning. It was yet another revolving door of relievers as the Cubs tried to bridge the gap between Carlos and Carlos, with Guzman and Cotts walking the ballpark before Heilmann shut the door.
I'll always remember where I was when Lou's head exploded and Larry Rothschild had to go out and make the pitching change.
But, in the end, the Cubs rallied and Marmol shut the door. And with that, the Cubs are in position to take their second series in so many tries which, if you think about it, is pretty damn impressive. Playing .666 baseball on the road will get you pretty far.
One more game for the Cubs today before they get to go home.
One more note, this from Kurt
Both D.Lee and Milton Bradley had 0-fers last night. That drops their averages down to .091 and .062 respectively.
Carlos Zambrano threw 118 pitches in 6 innings. That's a high pitch count for the month of August, not to mention the second start of April.
Lou Piniella needs to take a crash course on bullpen management. That is all.
The Cubs leave Houston with a winning record following an offensive explosion. Let's break it down...
8 of the team's 11 runs were scored in the first 2 innings of the game, and only 3 of those 8 runs came from a homerun - the result of a 3-run shot by Mike Fontenot.
Impressively, Soriano went 2 for 5, scoring 2 runs and stealing a base. More impressively, #2 hitter Kosuke Fukudome went 4 for 5, including a double and a homer, silencing his critics for at least one night. Fooky also stole a base (as a part of a double steal with Sori).
In fact, every Cub regular but Milton Bradley - we'll get to him in a second - got a hit. Lee went a meager 1 for 6 (Hoffpauir is shining his bat in anticipation), while Aramis collected 4 hits and 4 RBI.
About Bradley - he remains 0 for 2009, but he also remains amazingly patient. He worked every pitch count he saw last night and drew 3 walks. It may not exactly be what we're looking for in a cleanup hitter, but who cares? Bradley's discipline is part of the reason why Ramirez drove in 4 last night.
Ted Lilly! Why? Last year Lilly was a fantastic pitcher, except for when he faced the Reds and ignoring his first 4 or 5 starts. Last night Teddy Roosevelt got the least-earned win imaginable. He pitched 5 innings, striking out 3, walking 0, and serving up 4 - FOUR!! - homeruns, all but one solo-shots. Lilly now has an improbable record of 1-0 with an ERA of 9.00.
As far as the pen went, Dave Patton gave a very solid performance in his major league debut. He appears to be earning a high degree of man-love from Cub fans everywhere. Oh, and Marmol and Guzman pitched shutout ball in their innings of relief as well.
The Series Recap
If the Cubs can average 2 wins for every 3 games played, then they will come pretty close to the 110 wins I'm predicting they'll win in '09. A road series win, beating the 3 best pitchers of an opposing team that's dangerous but lacking the juice to stay competitive ... well, that's pretty awesome. The Cubs killed Moehler last night, chasing him in the 2nd inning, and amazingly they were able to hold Carlos Lee to a 1 for 12 (.083 AVG) performance. It may be the first time in his career that Lee didn't burn the Cubs at least once. The guy's got a career .306 AVG against the Cubs and has hit 27 homeruns against them - 8 better than his second best against-team total.
The Cubs roll into Milwaukee next on Friday. Maybe they will continue to announce their presence with authority there by thrasing the Brewers.
Current Record: 2-1
Position in the NL Central: Tied for 1st with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee
Best Possible Record: 161-1
Worst Possible Record: 2-160
On Pace For: 108-54
And a P.S.
We're 3 games into our experiment in this new format with better graphics and hopefully a little more interactionability (I know that's not a real word). I'd love to know what you think about the graphics and the content.
Clearly this season is OVER! After all, how are the Cubs expected to steal game seven if they can't even win game two!?! Ernie Banks said the Cubs would shine in 2009, but he's a LIAR! He was clearly just telling us what we wanted to hear! It might as well have just counted as another home game for them! We had no advantage! God hates us! I cant believe we lost a game this year. I feel awful and I have to pay back all those undefeated bets! DAMMIT!
But seriously, it was not one of the best offensive performances by the 2009 Cubs. The good news - Derrek Lee popped his '09 cherry with a 3rd inning RBI single, scoring Ryan TheQuietRiot (screw you Rob, I'm making it stick!).
On the Ryan Dempster front, he wasn't fantastic but he wasn't bad either. Scratch that. He had a no hitter going for the first third of the game. He lost his touch in the 5th, though, when Hunter Pence hit a homer, and would have lost the game after giving up an RBI single in the 6th but Alfonso Soriano had other ideas.
The Fonz -- who can't hit in Chicago in April -- is benefiting from the season's start in warm Houston. He hit his 2nd homerun in as many days in the 8th, propelling the game to extra innings. The only problem was the Piniella was rolling the dice hard by a) bringing Heilman in to pitch 2 innings, only for him to be completely ineffective in the 9th and turning to Neal Cotts, who bailed the Cubs out of trouble in the 9th only to be b) brought in again in the 10th inning, where he proved to be completely ineffective. So, the Cubs lost in extra innings.
Anyway, the good points of yesterday's game:
- Dempster didn't look bad. He threw 95 pitches in 6 innings, striking out 5. He wasn't quite as wild as the NLDS Dempster, but he walked 3 and looked ugly at points.
- Alfonso smacked homer #2. I think that will officially qualify him for the who's hot segment of the GameCast.
- Guzman struck out 2 in his inning of relief, which was a relief.
- Wandy Rodriguez owns the Cubs.
I was talking a little bit with AJ about this and he pointed out to me that Ryan Theriot's stolen base attempt - and subsequent failure - cost the Cubs more than the double plays they grounded into (of which Derrek Lee had nothing to do with.
Also, and this probably deserves mentioning before now, Geo Soto left the game early due to shoulder stiffness and is expected to miss at least one game. Maybe the Cubs are downplaying it, or maybe it's really not too serious. Either way, Three Finger Hill is our catcher tonight.
The Cubs won't be starting the year 0-14.
Tonight's game is a series of stories that can actually be told from the perspective of two types. The first type is the following - and was inspired by the newly improved GROTA Shout Box.
Did you see how Derrek Lee went 0 for 4? Micah Hoffpauir went 1 for 1 with an RBI. Just sayin'.
Did you see how Kosuke Fukudome went 0 for 4? Time for him to take over Kosh's job as the head of the grounds crew.
Imagine what would have happened if Carlos had gone 4 innings walking 6, striking out 3, and surrendering 5. These guys would already be standing on the ledge getting ready to give up on the 2009 season. At least Cub fans are consistent.
The good news is that while a couple of the Cub regulars shockingly failed to get a hit - I know, we expected them all to start the year batting 1.000 - the game started with a splendid leadoff homerun by Alfonso Soriano. The offensive shower continued in the second inning when Aramis also cleared the bleachers with a blast.
In fact, the Cubs were far from overpowering tonight, but they consistently caused trouble for Astros ace Roy Oswalt and they seemed to make the game feel like it was far less close than it actually was. Even when Carlos Marmol walked Lance Berkman and faced a Carlos Lee who also served as the potential tying run (I believe the Cubs should walk Carlos Lee every freakin' time he steps up to the plate, by the way) it didn't seem too stressful. And while Kevin Gregg gave up an earned run in the 9th he notched his first save in as many attempts.
But maybe the best story of tonight was Carlos Zambrano. He threw 97 through 6. He walked 3. He seemed to get into minor bouts of trouble all night - including allowing the leadoff man to get on base in the first 3 innings of the game. But while he petered out by the 7th, leaving with 2 on and 0 outs, Carlos hardly looked like the Big Moose of old who had trouble getting through even the 5th inning of opening day games. Maybe it's an indication of things to come.
Anyway, if the Astros were going to win a game this series, it was this fist one. The Cubs pitching gets stronger while the Astros rotation thins and weakens. It's a glorious start to the 2009 season and I'm happy to say ... Cubs win!
And so ends our early pre-season experimentation with actual coverage. The Cubs got handled today by the White Sox, although again most of the damage was done to players who won't be pitching for the Cubs anyway.
Today's winner for the White Sox is a guy named Jeffrey Marquez, a rookie who threw 3 strong innings striking out 2, walking 1, and giving up only 1 hit. Over on the Cubs side, Aaron Heilman continued with his campaign to be named a starter, going 3 innings, striking out 3, walking 2, and surrendering 1 hit. So far he hasn't allowed a run this spring.
Mateo got tagged with the loss, although the Cubs probably would've won had Ken Kadokura not surrendered 2 more runs in the top of the 9th. With just 1 out the Cubs managed to load the bases in their final chance, with Ryan Theriot hulking a sac fly into the outfield and Reed Johnson driving in 2 with a single before Richie Robnett flew out to end the game.
More importantly than the final score, Mike Fontenot went 2 for 4 today while playing third base, The Hoff went 1 for 2, and Paul Bako gunned out 2 would-be base stealers. Oh, and every guy who pitched today that will actually be on the Cubs roster in April - Heilman, Gregg, and Cotts - held the White Sox scoreless.
All that out of the way, what you see at the top of this post will theoretically be the Game Recaps image that we use for the rest of the year. (Don't worry, I've got one with the Win Flag too, to be used appropriately.) I think it might be one of the better graphics I've made. In terms of GROTA coverage of Spring Training, there probably won't be another Series Preview until the Cubs play the Yankees, nor another GameCast until they play ones that matter. We'll just have to see how we - and everybody else - feels.
(Editor's note: I'm still working on the best Recap graphic, just so you know. It probably won't look like this in April.)
Last night's televised game started ridiculously late, and I have a feeling that there weren't too many Chicagoans who stayed up to see the final score. We were all probably sleeping - or trying to, like in my case - when the Cubs coughed up the lead late in the game and lost on a Ben Brossard single off David Patton in the 9th.
Probably more importantly, this game may have dealt a crushing blow to Jeff Samardzija's chances of making the opening day roster as the 5th starter. He gave up 3 runs in 3 innings of work while striking out 2.
Offensively, the Cubs didn't have many problems scoring runs - especially in the middle innings when they racked up 5 of their 6. Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot both had big days, combining to go 5 for 8 with 1 RBI, 3 runs scored, a double, and a triple, although most of the damage was done against Jon Van Benschoten who probably has as much of a chance of cracking the White Sox roster as George Bell does.
The Cubs started out undefeated and are now 5-4. That's not exactly a big deal. The important thing is that the right guys put up good enough numbers to earn the roles they're capable of playing. Mike Fontenot's hitting well enough to start over Aaron Miles. Micah Hoffpauir is hitting well enough to crack the roster. Whether the Cubs win or lose in the meantime isn't so important.
Later today the Cubs will be playing the White Sox again, also on WGN. We'll have a GameCast up for you to follow along.
This Game Recap brought to you by Bench Aaron Miles!
And just like that, the 2008 regular season comes to a close. CC Sabathia finally was able to beat the Cubs, although Lou hardly trotted out his best players today. What's more, Sabathia pitched again on short rest and went the distance - 122 pitches and 7 strikeouts to notch another big win. With all due respect to Webb, maybe the Brewers lefty should get some votes for the Cy Young.
The Cubs were offensively quiet today; in fact, Theriot and Ramirez accounted for all their hits. The Cubs pitching was pretty effective - Angel Guzman rediscovered some of that God-given talent and struck out 4 Brewers in 2 innings of work, before turning it over to an assorted cast of characters. Gaudin, Cotts, Hart, Marshall, Wuertz, and Howry, proceeded to get some work, and ironically it was only the guys up for post season roster consideration who looked bad.
I'm sure some Cub fans are a little frustrated that the team couldn't hold onto their thin lead and force Milwaukee into a one-game with the Mets, but this was clearly not today's objective. Lou Piniella was looking to get all of his relievers a little work. In the process, he discovered something we've known for quite a while - the only time Bob Howry doesn't let a hit drop onto the playing field is when it cannot be contained by the park. Unfortunately, that's often. In the 8th inning, Howry managed to secure 2 outs before giving up the game-changing homer, but even the second out of the inning was one that almost escaped the ballpark. This takes us to ...
Well, I was hoping for a sweep, but upon reflection it would have required a minor miracle. But chin up, Cub fans. The Brewers look far from invincible. To get to the post season, they have loaded up their workhorse ace and probably sooner rather than later, he's going to wear out. And while Bob Howry has to be the most concerning post season selection I've seen since Lou penciled in Jason Marquis, the are unlikely to use him in a tight spot. We might see Howry come in if they are leading by 8 or losing by 8, but I doubt he'll be pitching in a close situation. Let's keep that in mind.
Bring on the Dodgers
Now that Milwaukee has clinched, the Dodgers are lined up to play the Cubs. This is the first post season in a long, long while in which all New York teams will be watching from home, which is rare and makes things more interesting, at least for me. This will also be a particularly interesting NLDS because, while the Cubs have beaten the Dodgers in the season series, it was mostly in low-scoring games and without the presence of Manny Ramirez. Back in June and July, 1460's Jon Miller and I went back and forth on this a lot - the Dodgers were a little concerning. But now that September is finally ending, I say bring 'em on. If the Cubs can't beat the weakest team to make the playoffs, then they don't deserve to beat anybody else.
I'm going to start on a Post Season Scouting Report, which I will publish at some point tomorrow. In the meantime, let's give Milwaukee their moment, but let's not forget something - we owned them all year long, and we'll own them in the NLCS if we have to.
It's really next to impossible to compare teams in different eras, so maybe these really aren't "the best in our life-times" as I have so brazenly declared. But in terms of wins, the '08 Cubs have now won more games than any Cubs team since 1945 with their 97th tonight. They have also dealt a blow to the Brewers that can best be described as the punch that comes before the knockout. They just put one on Milwaukee's chin; the Brewers have crossed their eyes, and one massive roundhouse shot to the temple will be all she wrote for the Milwaukee season ... assuming the Mets win tomorrow.
Pity Ben Sheets. He tried. He was chased early in the 3rd, after having given up 4 runs on 53 pitches. He then sounded like a total idiot in the post game, saying "That's all I had. I got a broke arm, I got a broke arm. It's not really broke, but it's all I had for the year. Things definitely don't look like they’re on my side."
Although Sheets was chased early, the Cubs still toyed with Milwaukee, keeping it close. In the 7th and 8th innings, the Brewers threatened and even managed to come within a run after Jason Marquis's relief pitching post season audition. de Suck managed to get the first out in the 8th against the first batter he faced, and he then proceeded to walk Russell Branyan, he surrendered an RBI single to Craig Counsell, and he then hit Ryan Braun. Lou then called the bullpen, and spoke briefly to Neal Cotts about coming into the game. Cotts yelled "you need me!" into the phone, trotted out to the mound, and gave up an RBI single to Prince Fielder. With his formerly comfortable lead evaporated, Lou turned to Michael Wuertz who managed to force two fielders' choices and escaped the inning.
Phew. Sounds like a lot of excitement. Fortunately, the 9th was boring. Kerry Wood came into the game but left his leopard-print tights back in the clubhouse for a boring 1-2-3 end to an otherwise thrilling game. Granted, it was a non-save situation thanks to Kosuke Fukudome, who hit his 10th homer of the year in the top of the 9th, but that doesn't matter. The point is that the Cubs won.
Now, our friend and team manager Lou Piniella knows the importance of the next step. He knows that, between the Mets and the Brewers, CC Sabathia is perhaps as equally dangerous as Johan Santana in a short series. But Lou must also surely know that Santana could pitch no more than twice in a 5 game set, compared to facing Sabathia perhaps as often as 3 times in a 7 gamer. What's more, Lou recognizes that the Mets are the walking wounded, while the Brewers are comparatively intact. For all of those reasons, Lou probably realizes it might benefit the Cubs to play the Mets in Round 1 and leave it up to the Dodgers and Phillies to fight it out for who they'd play in Round 2. That's why Lou will be turning to the Ice Man, The Clutch Captain, to beat Sabathia tomorrow in order to give the Mets their shot of clinching the Wild Card. That's right, Lou Piniella is calling upon ... Angel Guzman for the final start of the year?!
What. The. Huh???!
Well, you never know. Guzman has not been nearly as effective since the doctors sliced all that God-given speed and movement from his shoulder and elbow, but the Cubs have shown a disposition to beat Sabathia. Maybe Milwaukee will collapse and it won't matter that Guzman is only able to last 3 innings himself. Maybe the Mets will win and it'll go to a 1 game playoff regardless of what the Brewers do. Maybe a playoff would be the best thing, because it weakens the winner - whomever it is - for the NLDS.
Maybe - and this is perhaps the most likely scenario - Lou Piniella realizes it doesn't matter. He's not afraid of the other teams in the NL. He knows that he has the most complete, the most competent, the most decisively built team in all of baseball. He is not afraid to play the Brewers in the NLCS, he's not afraid to play the Mets in the NLDS, and he'd rather rest up to win on Wednesday, rather than worry about winning a fairly pointless game on Sunday.
So, Angel Guzman, go get 'em. And to all the Cubs who will actually be playing on the post season roster, go get 'em ... on Wednesday.