I would kill my internet connection out of spite, but it's better to be crippled-but-online rather than dead-and-disconnected. It seems that MLB.TV doesn't want to play properly for me right now, which means that I have become increasingly reliant on the sports ticker. But that's ok - it's going to be a struggle for me to watch these games for awhile anyway. They're all too close.
Although the offense continues to slump, the Cubs won again tonight, their second in a row. Tonight's win came from RBIs generated by a bases loaded walk, a ground out, and more traditionally, a double. As a team, the Cubs combined for 7 hits and 5 walks, and they failed to capitalize on either 9 or 19 opportunities, depending on how you want to look at things.
Not that the continued offensive druthers mattered too much. Rich Harden triumphantly returned to the rotation, pitching 6 innings, giving up only 5 hits, 1 walk, and 2 runs. Both of the runs scored against Harden came in the 6th, thanks in part (and unsurprisingly) to Albert Pujols, who drove in one with a double. The Cubs ace was relieved by Lou's best three, all of whom promptly scared the crap out of Cub fans everywhere. I mean, c'mon guys, how long do we have to go before you relearn the meaning of a 1-2-3 inning? Samardija gave up a hit, leaving a Cardinal stranded at second. Marmol loaded the bases, although it was partly due to the continued sudden influx of stupidity on the part of Lou Piniella.
Look, I love Lou. The Cubs wouldn't be a first place team without him. But, when there was a man on 2nd and a man on 3rd with 2 outs, why in the hell did Lou make Marmol intentionally walk Adam Freaking Kennedy to load the bases? I mean, Adam Kennedy! The guy sucks! He's batting .267 with a homerun in 300 at bats. Josh Phelps, meanwhile, who pinched-hit for Jason LaRue, is batting .278 in admittedly limited at bats this year. But, still. When the Cubs intentionally walked Adam Kennedy, I hear he almost fainted from the shock of it. Besides that, with a 1-run lead and a pitcher with a few bouts with total and absolute wildness this year, I'm not sure how I'd feel about intentionally putting him in a situation in which he couldn't afford to miss his spots.
But, hey, it worked. Marmol got out of the 8th and Lou Piniella turned to the Shooter, Kerry Wood. Wood delivered on the opportunity for his 30th save this season by allowing a leadoff double and, after forcing an out at third, a single to Schumaker.
Then, with 2 men on, Wood struck out Aaron Miles and faced Albert Pujols, who popped out to center to end the game. But, I ask you this, my friends. Did you feel comfortable with Wood facing Pujols in that situation? With 2 outs and a base empty, wouldn't it have made sense to walk Pujols in order to face Ludwick? Do you ever give the other team's best hitter a chance to burn you in the 9th inning?
I think Lou is suffering from fatigue. I think his decisions as of late are mostly bad. I suppose I could be wrong, though.
Series Recap: It's their first series victory by the Cubs since August. Despite their slumps and slides since then, the Cubs are now 5.5 games in front of the second place Brewers. Milwaukee, that's got to hurt.
They next face the Houston Astros, depending on whether or not Hurricane Ike lets it happen. The first 2 games of the series have already been postponed, with the possibility that Sunday's game will be a double header and the 3rd game will be made up, in theory, at the end of the season.
I still think they should have just moved 'em to Wrigley, not that I ever expected that to actually happen.
All told, the Cubs are now 3-6 in September. Not exactly world breaking, but they've got time to go back to crushing the globe.
Current Record: 88-58
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5.5 games in front of Milwaukee and 8.5 ahead of Houston
Best Possible Record: 104-58
Worst Possible Record: 88-74
On Pace For: 98-64
Magic Number: 11, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
Lou Piniella said it, but we said it first. The Cubs right now are playing like a team trying to lose. And their closer - who at one point had been as close to automatic as anybody we'd seen in a long ass time - is in a funk at the time of year when a funky closer is the last thing you want.
All that said, the Cubs had to win it tonight, and they did, but not before instilling panic in the hearts of Cub fans everywhere. In my case, it was an especially rough 9th inning because MLB.TV and the Yahoo Sports ticker conspired to scare the shiz out of me. I couldn't get the game feed on MLB.TV, and the Yahoo Ticker froze up after Wood had gotten 2 strikes on Aaron Miles. When it un-froze, it reported that there was a runner on 2nd with only one out, and Josh Phelps was up. Then it went wonky again, and, before I knew it, the game was reported as having ended and the Cubs were the victors. Maybe it was scarier than it had to be, but it was still scary.
Despite Kerry Wood's continued Rod Beck-like turn, the Cubs held a pretty firm lead most of the night. All 4 of their runs stemmed from the 2nd inning when every Cub got to bat at least once and they accounted for 4 of their 8 hits and 1 of their 4 walks.
Meanwhile, Ted Lilly was lights out, except for the 3rd inning when he gave up 3 2-out singles that would have resulted in a run that might have made all the difference this game, except Alfonso "He So Selfish" Soriano threw out ex-Cub Cesar Izturis at home.
Lilly went 8 innings on 90 pitches for his 14th win of the year. He allowed only 5 hits, he walked 0, and struck out 5. He looks now to be on pace for another 15 win season, which would make him the first Cubs lefty to win 15 or more two years in a row since back in the day when my dad was dodging the draft and I was but a glimmer in his bloodshot, unfocused eyes.
The Cubs play the rubber game tomorrow. Will Rich Harden be on top of his game? I'm not convinced he will be - the last time the Cubs gave him extended rest, he came back rusty. That said, the man with the sub-2.00 ERA will be a tough arm for the Cardinals to beat. If the Cubs are going to ever bust out of this insanely depressing slump, it starts tomorrow.
14 runs later, and the Cubs have their first September victory, not that there weren't a few speed bumps along the way. Jason Marquis - who, for one night, has earned the nickname "The Stopper," stepped up and pitched 2 run baseball into the 8th inning, striking out only 2 to his 5 walks, and he hit a homerun to boot. Speaking of homeruns, Marquis wasn't alone in his quest to injure a Reds fan in the bleachers - Mark DeRosa hit his 20th of the season, and Alfonso Soriano hit his 25th, 26th, and 27th. Fonz, we love you.
In fact, the Cubs managed 18 hits and 4 walks tonight while scoring 14 runs in total.
And they still managed to scare the crap out of Cub fans!
The final 2 innings of the night were not exactly easy. The Reds scored 8 of their 9 runs with 5 outs remaining in the game, including a 9th inning Granny by Jolbert Cabrera off of Carlos Marmol, who will only be tagged for 1 of the 4 runs. Having made it more interesting for himself, Marmol then buckled down and had a fairly easy time getting the last 3 outs of the game, Corey Patterson excluded. And, like that, the Cubs have ended their slide, they maintain a 4 game lead on the second place Brewers, I can now stand to look at their schedule again, and they have a chance of winning the 3 game set against the Reds tomorrow night.
I know a lot of people are sick with this team. It very quickly became a roller coaster in the last week after the Cubs had given us a month of smooth sailing, and if I haven't mixed my metaphors enough, they finally managed to hit the breaks tonight after having fallen off a cliff. But, c'mon, be honest Cub fans, you're still worried that there's more space to fall.
If I were to take a survey of our loyal Goat Readers, how many people out there right now believe the Cubs will somehow find a way to miss the playoffs?
How many people think they'll slink in as wild carders?
How many people believe they'll be swept out of the first round?
How many people are aware that, with 20 games remaining, the Cubs have the best record in the NL? I mean, that's how good they've been this year. They lost six games in a row and they are percentage points away from having the best record in all of baseball.
For the last month or so, many of us - this blog included - have directed our gaze toward a nice, round number that no Cubs team has seen in more than 70 years. Achieving that win would be a tremendous accomplishment, a point of pride that few Cub fans can recall experiencing as most who were alive the last time it happened now battle dementia, senility, and/or incontinence.
And, yet, 100 wins means exactly this in reality: Dog Piss Jones. 100 wins means nothing. It should not be the goal. With 20 games remaining, the Cubs are capable of achieving it, but should it even be a minor concern? Maybe this ridiculous losing streak was a blessing in disguise. Maybe it will have served as a reminder to the team that they are not invincible, they still have to actually play to win, and rather than strive to achieve cool-yet-irrelevant goals like a 100 win season, maybe they can now focus on the two most important things: entering the playoffs with home field advantage and beating the ever-loving shit out of every team they come across once they're there.
I know some of you have abandoned ship. Rather than risk another painful crash landing, you have pulled the ripcord and you are floating off to the safety of disconnection. Have fun over there. Enjoy the football season. Hockey and basketball start soon. There's a new episode of House on TV next week and you can already get the first episode of Dexter online.
Me, I bleed Cubs baseball, and I will be there until the end, be it in the first week of October or the last. And believe me, the enjoyment or the sorrow that I will experience when the last out is made this season will be enough for me and ten others. I've got you covered. I'm collecting all the forks you've stuck in this team throughout the season, and I promise that you'll get them all back when it's over.
But it's not over. Anybody who believes otherwise is ridiculous and afraid.
Right now, I don't even want to look at the Cubs. I just don't want to think about them, not until they start winning again.
So, instead of talking about last night's game and how incredibly depressing it was, I'm going to look at two lines in particular. That of Ted Lilly and Jon Lieber.
Jon Lieber: 39.2 IP, 8 ER, 1.82 ERA
Ted Lilly: 159 IP, 4.02 ERA.
That would be the seasonal lines of Lilly and Lieber if they'd never faced the Reds this year. Lieber has surrendered 16 hits to the Reds in his work, 8 of which could not be contained by the ballpark. He's only given up 2 homeruns to non-Cincinnati teams. I almost smell a conspiracy here.
While last night's loss was certainly another blow to the confidence of Cub fans everywhere, considering the way the Reds destroy Lieber and Lilly, it seems as though it was a perfect storm of pain. Now, here's the thing - the Cubs bench coach Alan Trammall has an important job. Part of that job is knowing the splits and numbers of his players against their opponents. Alan needs to pull aside Lou and say "so, uh, about Jon Lieber and the Reds ..." because, like Lou's addiction to Howry, he seems to derrive pleasure in watching Liebs get hammered.
Anyway, I have a very, very strong feeling that we're going to see one of two things tonight. We will see a) an easy, reassurring Cubs victory or b) Lou Piniella go temporarly insane on the baseball field. Something will give.
First, before anything else, let me thank the New York Mets, who swept the Brewers. Because of the Mets, the Cubs maintain a 4.5 game lead on the second place team in the division.
Second, I will again point out that a slump had to be expected.
Those two things out of the way, I am in full-blown, sick to my stomach panic mode. It's not that I'm not expecting the Cubs to reach the playoffs, because I am positive they will. It's not even that I think the Brewers will creep in and take the division, because I would be shocked if they do. The pressing concern for me is the stark realization that any team can swing from unrelenting momentum directly into a gut-wrenching slide. If the Cubs can lose 5 straight games, and if in 4 of those 5 losses they combine to score 5 runs in total, then my question becomes this: what's stopping them from doing that in October?
At this point, the only way the Cubs will address my concerns is by winning the crap out of their remaining games. Yep, that's right. "Winning the crap out of their remaining games." For those of you who speak and understand English rather than Kurtytalk, "winning the crap" means "playing dominantly." With 22 games remaining, the Cubs will need to win close to that epic number of 15 in order for me to feel less concerned. They will need to step up and dominate the Cardinals and Brewers, and they will also need to extract revenge from the Astros in Houston.
Will they be able to do that? I think we'll know within the next week or so. We may know as soon as the end of their upcoming series with the Reds. But if the Cubs fail to pull out of this dive they're in, playoffs or not, it will become an October of Diminished Expectations.
Oh, and because this is supposed to be a Game Recap: Cubs lost 4-0. The offense got shut down again. Dempster didn't do badly, but something has gone horribly wrong with the hitting. My thoughts on this, if not evidently clear already ... fix it soon, guys. Fix it soon.
Let's play a game of Good News, Bad News.
Good News: Carlos Zambrano was throwing 96MPH last night.
Bad News: He left early because he wasn't feeling well. The implication is that it's an arm problem. The good news is that the Cubs are deep enough to pitch through a short series without him, but the bad news is that they have to be less likely to succeed, I mean, that can't be contested. That said, I personally suspect that he'll be ok, they'll give him half the month off, he'll come back and throw a few tune-up starts and be ready for October.
Good News: The offense came alive last night. Homeruns by Soriano, Soto, and Edmonds led the charge.
Bad News: Lou Piniella has an addiction to Bob Howry and he turned to him again last night. Howry gave up 4 earned runs without recording an out and he is ultimately to blame for last night's loss. Somebody needs to have an intervention with Piniella, maybe with graphs and charts showing Lou how damaging too much Howry can be.
Good News: The Cubs were able to come from behind and tie up the game in the 7th inning.
Bad News: They couldn't seal the deal and failed to capitalize on late inning and extra inning opportunities. This includes Piniella giving Casey McGehee his first ever major league at bat in a clutch situation, ignoring Micha Hoffpauir who was also on the bench and has been an insanely good hitter this year.
Bad News: Piniella also turned to his two best relievers for 4 innings. Marmol pitched 2 and Wood pitched 2, despite the bullpen being replenished and having Jon Lieber, who in theory could have thrown 4 innings on his own.
In other words, I'm ultimately blaming Lou for last night's debacle. The Cubs could have won the game, but there were a number of bad-if-not-all-out weird calls made by the manager. But, hey, he wins them more games than he loses them, let's just call it a senior moment and move on.
Good News: Milwaukee lost too, leaving the Cubs with a 4.5 game lead despite their 4 game skid. I said it before, I'll say it again - they were absolutely due for one more slide this season. This is it. They will climb out of it and we'll all have a chuckle in October saying "hey, remember when they lost 4 in a row to start September and we were all kind of crapping our pants?"
I look forward to that day. I long for that day. It's coming.
Before you sneak your big toe back out onto the ledge, I'd like to hit you with a few things.
1. The Cubs are still 7-3 in their last 10 played.
2. A week ago, I predicted that they'd have one more slump before the playoffs, and I said "please let it be early in the month, rather than later." Hopefully this is it.
3. Jason Marquis lost today. Ignore his stat line. Just remember those four words: Jason Marquis lost today. Are you surprised?
All that said, I've reached a point in the season in which every Cubs loss makes me nervous. It's hard for me to practice what I've preached, and a loss today just adds to my ball of stress. The Cubs offense has looked pretty dead ever since Pittsburgh left town. Thankfully, they're taking on a couple of punching bags tomorrow and Wednesday, but I've got that Rob-like mentality that says "waitasecond, if the Cubs can lose three games straight with next-to-no offense, what's stopping them from doing the same thing next month?"
It's an unhappy thought. Here's to hoping that Carlos Zambrano makes us feel happier tomorrow.
For those of us who were calling this four-game series a playoff preview, I'm sure there must have been a pervasive sense of disappointment when the Cubs failed to take 3 of 4. Blame Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry, who apparently decided that nothing exciting had happened for a while, causing them to reach into their bags and roll the Cause Random Stress Dice, landing on Carlos Zambrano: Arm Exhaustion.
Consequently, Sean Marshall made an emergency start today. The Phillies blasted him for 3 in the first inning, and although the Cubs were able to amass 11 hits and 2 walks, they just never seemed in the game. By the way, let's take a moment to give props to Jamie Moyer, who won his 12th game of the season today. The 45-year-old lefty now has 241 wins in his career. Oh, and did you know he started with the Cubs in the same season as a future righty Hall of Famer 42-year-old? I wonder what the statistical odds are of two pitchers starting off together on the same team in the same year and then still pitching 23 years later while combining to win 594 games? I'm not stupid enough to say that it would have made all the difference in the world, but I can't help but wonder what things would have been like if Moyer and Maddux had won all those games as Cubs.
The Cubs finish the month of August with 20 wins, and they now enter September needing 15 to reach 100. Maybe it'll happen, maybe not, it really doesn't matter no matter how often we or others talk about it. Milwaukee beat up on Pittsbugh some more today, and they are now 4.5 games out of first place. A friend of mine told me weeks ago that he'd be far less nervous about the team if they entered September with a 7 game lead.
Well, they couldn't do it, but let's not forget the lead they have on the current Wild Card team right now.
More content will come in this post later, like when I wake up tomorrow. I'm exhausted.
Apologies for nobody on the blog posting yesterday. Double apologies because this will be a short one, too.
The Cubs 7-game winning streak skidded to an end yesterday. Ignoring that they won their first 2, the Chicago offense has been a little slow since it last saw Pittsburgh pitching - who, appropriately enough, are now letting the Brewers bring the hurt. I get nervous whenever the Cubs offense stays home for a string of games, because what's stopping them from doing that in the playoffs?
However, before we walk down that road, let's not forget that there are perks to having the best pitching in baseball.
We'll have more for you later today, on this your holiday weekend.
A few days ago, I reminded everybody that the Cubs were bound to lose again. Since then, the Cubs have done nothing but prove me wrong. Even today, when they were being no-hit into the middle innings, this team managed to come from behind and then buckle down on a day when its closer was unavailable.
Can you imagine how dejecting it must be for the Brewers right now? They've been playing great baseball this month. Milwaukee has an August record of 17-7. they've had an 8 game winning streak and a 5 game winning streak. And yet, they are likely to enter September more games behind the Cubs than they were at the start of August.
Today's game would have been the first loss for Chicago in exactly a week, but this team doesn't have any quit in them. After scoring 2 runs in unusual ways - a Daryle Ward ground-out and a Kosuke Fukudome bases-loaded walk - Alfonso Soriano hit a moonshot in the 7th that, once it landed somewhere in Wisconsin, marked his 23rd of the year. It would be the difference.
Although Rich Harden wasn't at his peak today, he and the Cubs relievers were good enough. He went 5 innings, walking 4 and surrendering 3 hits. He was relieved by Lou's bodybag of choice last Friday, Chad Gaudin, who kept things close in the 5th. Then - then - Jeff Samardzija threw an inning and a third, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks while forcing Lou to turn to his 9th inning option 2 outs sooner than anybody had preferred. Luckily, Carlos Marmol has a history of doing this sort of thing, as I noted a few minutes ago. He struck out both batters he faced in the 8th, stranding 2 Phillies, and then he returned for the 9th without the Cubs offense padding his lead in the 8th.
Before I describe to you the epic struggle for the final out, I'd just like to take a moment to give props to Mark DeRosa. Granted, he wasn't exactly on a DiMaggio-like hitting streak, or even a Rose-like one, but he had hit safely in 10 straight games before this afternoon. And yet, in the bottom of the 8th, he chose to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd. That's a team player right there, folks.
In the 9th inning, Marmol trotted out there again, making this game his 14th of the season in which he's thrown more than 1 inning of work. He recorded 2 easy outs to start things, but Marmol's control then evaporated against Chase Utley. After nearly hitting Utley to start the at bat, Marmol threw 2 more balls. You could almost hear Larry Rothschild break out into a sweat. And then - and then - Marmol rediscovered the strike zone and set Utley down swinging.
Just like that, the Cubs win, they have now matched their win total from last season, they are 35 games over .500, and the Brewers are, at the moment, 7 games out of first.
Oh, and congratulations to Jeff Samardzija for notching his first ever major league win. It surprised me that this was his first. It feels as though he's been in the Majors for long enough to have recorded a win by now, especially considering how effective he's been. I'm sure this will be a contender for most obvious statement ever, but ... I have a feeling Samardzija will win plenty more before his career is over.