The Cubs. So good. Can't write complete sentences. Gah!
It started out as a depressing night at Wrigley. Ryan Dempster was without his best stuff. He started the game by giving up a run and 2 hits in the 1st inning. The Cubs retaliated with a whole lot of nothing, getting a meager 2 hits in the first 4 innings of the game, before briefly tying it up with a Mark DeRosa RBI triple in the 5th. But then, in the 6th, Ryan Dempster appeared to surrender the game by letting the Phillies - who'd been trying to catch up to him all night long - score 3 runs on 3 hits. It was 4-1 Philadelphia and the Cubs looked dead-to-the-neck-up.
Then, in the 8th inning, the Cubs played as they have so often this year. They came from behind. Pinch hitting for Bob Howry - yep, Lou gave up on the game to the point of turning to Howry Doody - Mike Fontenot led off the inning by hitting his 9th homerun of the season, a solo shot. Alfonso Soriano then doubled, Theriot singled to right field, Derrek Lee craftily avoided the double play by drawing a walk, and then - and then! - Aramis Ramirez hit a grand slam to propel the Cubs ahead 6-4.
Kerry Wood closed out the game in the 9th after scaring us by allowing a leadoff single and then forcing the next 3 Philly hitters to harmlessly pop out to various parts of Wrigley Field.
Chicago would finish the game with 10 hits - including 1 from every regular - 2 walks, and sweet Aramis Ramirez goodness. They are now 34 games over .500, with 28 games left to play they are 1 game away from matching last season's NLCS pennant-capturing win total, and best of all, they've gained another half game on the slumbering Brewers.
The Cubs now need to go 16-12 the rest of the way in order to win 100 games this season. How many more games do they need to win before we change our take and pronounce that it's inevitable, rather then merely probable? And a more relevant question for you to discuss and debate: how many more games will these Cubs win before their next loss?
If Jason Marquis is a blind squirrel, then shutting out the Pirates is a nut he found. I guess it was bound to happen. Marquis went 7 strong innings, throwing 95 pitches, striking out 3 while walking 0 and surrendering 5 hits. However, in a turn of pure irony, while Marquis battened down the hatches and held the Pirates scoreless, the Cubs offense floundered and managed to only score 2, one from unlikely hero Ronny Cedeno, and the other from a sacrifice bunt by Henry Blanco.
The Cubs offense actually accounted for 7 hits - including doubles by Soriano, Theriot, and DeRosa - and 2 walks, but for the most part they just couldn't finish what they started. Fortunately, it turns out that the Cubs don't always need to score 12 or more runs in a game to win.
For me, perhaps the funniest part of the game is how, in 2 innings pitched, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol combined to strike out more Pirates than Marquis managed in 7. Not that Lou had it planned that way, but maybe it actually works out to the team's benefit to replace a soft throwing righty with two flame-throwers who derive pleasure from throwing pitches with ungodly break to them. Regardless, the Cubs won again, and when they eventually lay claim to the NL Central Championship, while their thank you speech should have 10 minutes dedicated to the Pirates, let the detractors remember that the Brewers played Pittsburgh just as often.
Series Recap: Another road series sweep. Just two months ago, the Cubs were a team with a glaring weakness - they could not regularly win on the road. However, after having gone 13-1 in their last 14 road games, the Cubs now have one of the best road records in baseball to help compliment their overall standing as - wait for it - The Best Team in The Game. Chicago is now 34-31 away from home. Similarly, the Phillies share that road record, the Brewers are 36-31, the Angels top all of baseball with 40 wins and 25 losses, and the Cardinals are actually 37-29. Maybe it's no coincidence that the Cubs have turned things around after releasing Scott Eyre, who was apparently depleting his teammates of energy by eating his - and their - share at all the pre-game buffets.
Before this month started, I predicted that they should win 17. They have; in fact, the Cubs have now won 18 this month. I also said that they could win 20 if all the cards fell the right way. At this point, 20 wins seems very likely. Some people are going to look to this upcoming 4-game set against the Phillies as a Series With Implications. I'm not so severe in my way of thinking, but it certainly would be nice if the Cubs could step on the Phillies's throats for 4 games and make it clear to them that they won't have what it takes come October.
Current Record: 83-50
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5.5 games in front of Milwaukee and 10 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 112-50
Worst Possible Record: 83-79
On Pace For: 101-61
Magic Number: 25, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
If there's such a thing as jinxes, then I am responsible for the Carlos Zambrano implosion tonight. Earlier in the day on Jon Miller's show, I predicted that Carlos was going to dominate the toothless Pirates tonight.
Apparently Carlos decided that the best way to spend the first inning was by trying to throw the ball through Geovany Soto's chest. Consequently, he was wild. However, after a rough 3-run, nearly 30-pitch first inning, the Moose buckled down and I doubt many people were surprised when the Cubs took the lead in the 4th after Geovany Soto drove in 3 runs with a bases-clearing double, followed by Carlos himself continuing his hitting and RBI streak by knocking home his catcher.
Then, it became a dogfight. The Cubs scored their 4, but the Pirates responded by scoring 1. The Cubs scored another with a DeRosa double, the Pirates retaliated with a 2-run 5th that chased Carlos. The Cubs scored another in the 6th thanks to a Geovany Soto solo homerun, and then the Pirates scored 2 more to claim an 8-7 lead.
Then, in the 8th inning, the Cubs busted out their slugging implements* and rang up the Pirates for 7. Mike Fontenot led off the inning with a single, promoting the Pirates to fatally turn to Craig Hansen. After making the fatal mistake of allowing Alfonso Soriano to reach on a single, Hansen proceeded to walk Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez. Then, Sean Burnett swooped in to save the day, and was rewarded by allowing a single to Reed Johnson (scoring Theriot). Then, after securing the first two outs of the inning, Geovany Soto hit another double, scoring another 3 runs, and he was followed by Fontenot who also hit a double, scoring another run. Phew, did you catch all of that?
(*because "whupping sticks" is just too cliche)
Anyway, that pretty much wrapped it up for the Cubs. Sure, Kerry Wood scared us a little in the 9th, but the final result was Cubs 14, Pirates 9, and after a considerable offensive effort, they have now won 82 games on the season, they are 32 games over .500, they have won yet another series, and with 5 games remaining they have matched my wins prediction for the month.
By the way, a couple of weeks ago Peter Gammons wrote a blog speculating about whether or not Geovany Soto was MVP material. At this point, he's got to be the sure-fire bet to be the Rookie of the Year. Tonight, he went 3 for 5 with 2 doubles, a homer, and 7 RBI. He's now got 20 homeruns on the year and he's driven in 78. With a month to play, while I think he falls short of being the National League MVP, he is without a doubt one of a few Cubs who has been absolutely essential to their success so far.
The Cubs will gain a game on the Cardinals tonight, who are currently being torn to shreds by the Brewers, and they play for a road game sweep tomorrow. Oh, and one final thought for you before you go: so far in the second half, Chicago is 13-5 on the road, and they're 12-1 in their last 13. Just incredible.
When he realized that neither Jason nor I had themotivation to write up a Series Preview, our resident realist Rob revealed his belief that the Cubs should sweep the Nationals. And they would have, too, if not for those punk kids and that talking dog, too! No, actually, it was mostly the fault of Jason Marquis. Had he not lost the ability to throw strikes, the Nationals probably would have failed to climb back and win the first game of the series.
Thankfully, Rich Harden is no Jason Marquis. Harden gave another stellar performance today, throwing 7 innings of 2-hit ball and matching his career high of 11 strikeouts. Harden has been a pleasure to watch as he just appears unflappable and unhittable - in fact, he's strongly reminding me of Mark Prior circa 2003 with one exception - Lou Piniella isn't pitching Harden's shoulder or elbow into oblivion. His 109 pitches today are the second most he's thrown for the Cubs all year long. (He threw 112 pitches against the D-Backs over a month ago.) Contrast that with 2003 Mark Prior, who in 30 starts that year, threw under 109 pitches only 10 times. Yeah, screw you too, Dusty Baker.
Harden is now 4-1 as a Cub with a 1.47 ERA. The Cubs are an 80 win team and with 32 games remaning, there is still a good chance that they might finish the year 20-12 (that's a winning percentage of .625) and become the first 100-win Cubs team in more than 70 years. Me, I'd still rather see them win a World Series.
Oh, and one other thing about Harden. At this point, if Rich and the Cubs faced Sabathia and the Brewers in the playoffs, even if I wasn't a Cubs fan, I think I'd have to bet on Harden. He's amazing.
Offensively, Mark DeRosa continues to rip the ball. He's hit 4 homeruns in as many days, and with the aforementioned 32 games remaining, DeRo has already achieved career highs in homeruns, RBI, walks, and runs scored.
Additionally, the still-struggling Kosuke Fukudome hit a pinch hit homerun - his 9th of the year - and I have hopes that he'll soon pull it together and give the Cubs a solid month of the kind of offense we came to love back in April.
Series Recap: Okay, sure, maybe the Cubs should have swept. However, if the Cubs average 2 wins per every 3 games from here on out, I, nor you, nor anybody will be complaining.
For me, I'm just pleased knowing that the Cubs are now 5 wins away from matching last year's total - a feat they will likely accomplish before August ends. Before the month began, I speculated that they should and perhaps would need to win at least 17 to maintain a healthy lead on the Brewers. With 7 games remaining, they have won 15, and I'd argue that they are in position to win 20.
Granted, the Brewers have hung tough and they've kept up. In fact, I'm astonished by how well they've played. However, they won't keep up. The Cubs are just a superior team and, sooner or later, they'll discover that C.C. Sabathia has been writing checks that his arm cannot cash. In the meantime ...
Current Record: 80-50
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee (who, at this posting, are tied 3-3 with Pittsburgh in extra innings) and 8 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 112-50
Worst Possible Record: 80-82
On Pace For: 100-62
Magic Number: 28, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
After yesterday's depressing collapse, the Cubs apparently decided to get serious about beating the Nationals today. Impressively, they did it by the same margin of yesterday's defeat - 7 runs - thanks to the bat of Aramis Ramirez and the pitching arm of Ryan Dempster, both of whom had very good days.
A-Ram hit 2 3-run homeruns, giving him 22 and 90 on the season. I can't help but think of where the Cubs would be without him - fourth place and out of the playoff hunt. For those of you who recently went back and re-familiarized yourselves with the Aramis Cock Fighting Controversy, while this is day 115 of the PETA protest of Wrigley Field, I am happy to report that most of the picket line breaks up at game time as the protestors sneak off to fill their seats. Also, like the rest of you, I am shocked - shocked, I say - that Aramis has continued to dodge the bullets of angry cock-loving pitchers*, who continue to throw at him but somehow keep missing. And for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, trust me, you're better off not getting the jokes.
(*Sorry. Really couldn't help myself.)
Oh, Mark DeRosa hit his second homerun in as many days, giving him a career high 17. I can't get over how great an acquisition he's been for the Cubs. Along with about 20 other guys on the team, the Cubs wouldn't be where they are right now without him.
Dempster, meanwhile, pitched into the 8th inning, exiting after giving up a single and beaning Lastings Milledge. Carlos Marmol relieved him and did what Carlos Marmol does best - glare the opposition back onto the bench. All told, it was a very fulfilling day for the Cubs, and with Rich Harden pitching tomorrow, they have a great chance of taking the series against the Nationals before moving on to more easy prey - the Pirates. It should be fun to watch.
Ouch. The Cubs suffered a painful loss yesterday, after having achieved an early lead of 4-0. In case you were wondering, this 7 run loss is not their worst defeat of the season, it just feels that way because the Nationals are just as bad as most of the Cubs teams that we grew up watching. Point of fact - the Cubs lost 9-0 against the Reds back on May 7th, they lost 10-3 vs. the White Sox on June 27th, they suffered a 9-2 beating against the Diamondbacks on July 22nd, and the Cardinals beat them 12-3 just this month on August 9th. What is true is that 13 runs is the most surrendered by this pitching staff all year long, although they were outscored 21-7 over a span of two days on the 26th and 27th of June.
Blowouts are certainly painful, although Len and Bob pointed out during yesterday's broadcast that the Cubs have lost something like 19 games by 1 run. I think that's worse.
Coincidentally, while the Cubs were getting beaten up by the Nationals, the Brewers and Cardinals were also participating in a couple of blowout games, although they were on the right side of them. Milwaukee won their game against the Pirates 10-4, and the Cardinals defeated the Braves 18-3. Unfortunately for all involved Central Division parties, it still only counts as 1 in the standings.
So, looking at the game yesterday, I'm sure that you - like I - am asking a single, simple question: wha' happen'd?
After scoring 4 unanswered runs in the early stages of the game thanks to a sweet steal of home by Soriano and homeruns by Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa, Cubs starting pitcher Jason Marquis suddenly remembered in the 6th inning that he sucks. He surrendered a leadoff single to Bonifacio, and then he misplaced the strike zone, walking Guzman and Zimmerman. Lastings Milledge sac'ed in Bonifacio, Belliard doubled in Guzman, and as Jason Marquis Walk of Shamed his way off the mound, Piniella turned to Neal Cotts to get the team out of that ugly little mess. Cotts proceeded to walk Austin Kearns and surrender a grand slam to Willie Harris. Harris, by the way, is a .255 hitter who went 2 for 4 with 2 homeruns and 6 RBI on the day. When he gets his next contract, he should promise to divvy up 5% of it to Cotts and Chad Gaudin.
After Cotts exited the game, Lou apparently decided that it wasn't possible to win it, so he turned to the Gas Can who gave up 2 hits and another run in his one inning of work. Then, Gaudin must have drawn the short straw, because although he clearly didn't have his best - or any - stuff, Lou forced him to pitch 2 innings of brutalizing, demoralizing baseball. The Nationals scored 6 more, adding insult to insult, and for a day the worst team in baseball beat the hell out of the best team.
Luckily, the Cubs have 2 days to extract bloody revenge. Ryan Dempster, 14-5 with a 2.92 ERA, will be taking on the 5-9 Odalis Perez. Rich Harden, 8-2 with a 2.04 ERA (1.50 since joining the Cubs) will be squaring off with the 2-9 Jason Bergmann. There's no such thing as a guaranteed victory in baseball, but I think we'd all agree that the Cubs have to be the favorites this weekend.
It's been written that, on days when he's not pitching, Carlos Zambrano shags fly balls in the outfield and throw them back in left handed. It turns out that the Big Moose is ambidextrous and, in the right circumstance, he'd love the opportunity to play the outfield on days he's not pitching. He'd just catch the ball with his right hand and throw it back in lefty.
He just might have the necessary stick for the job. In 482 career at bats, Zambrano is batting .241. That's not great unless you're a pitcher, but it could perhaps be successfully argued that players who don't bat regularly struggle more than players who bat daily. What's more impressive is his 16 career homeruns. Zambrano may just be capable of improving on that .241 career average, had he the chance to bat 500 times in a season. However, if it's true that limited plate time negatively effects a player's batting statistics, it would be hard for the Big Moose to do much better than he's done this year. Essentially, there have been 24 games this year in which the pitcher has been the most productive hitter on the team - the games Zambrano has started. Rather than give you the cold numbers, I'll give you the projections:
In 550 at bats, Carlos would have 196 hits, 31 doubles, 8 triples, 24 homeruns, 94 RBI, and he'd be batting .357 with a .928 OPS. Maybe the ol' Zambino photoshop was even more appropriate than it first appeared:
Perhaps the one factor detracting from Carlos's quest to be a hitter is his lack of patience. In all those career at bats, Z has a whopping 5 walks. That's Dunston/Patterson territory. However, it's conceivable that he's currently taking the "make 'em count" approach and is more aggressive than he'd be if he was hitting every day.
He certainly made 'em count today. Carlos was 1 for 2 with a homerun against the Reds, while also pitching 7 innings and giving up only 1 earned run off of 6 hits and 4 walks. His homer was the last run the Cubs scored, and it was also the difference in a 3-2 ballgame.
It remains concerning that Carlos has bouts with wildness, although my personal belief is that he was merely trying to get the Reds hitters in trouble with Dusty Baker. Rumor has it that the Reds have a "bench 'em if they walk twice in a game" policy, and for tomorrow's game, Chris Dickerson would've at the very least been flipped in the lineup with Corey Patterson, had C-Pat not drawn a walk in the 7th.
Offensively, the Cubs managed 6 hits and 2 walks of their own off of Josh Fogg and company. Fogg only went 4 innings and threw 60 pitches. I'm convinced that either Dusty got confused and thought it was the 8th when he pulled him, or he's planning on starting him again on Sunday. Apart from Zambrano's homer, the other two Cubs runs came from a DeRosa solo shot and - go figure - a Derrek Lee double play that also scored Alfonso Soriano.
One other thing worth mentioning is that Kerry Wood struck out 2 to get the save, and Carlos Marmol gave up his first earned run in over a month and his first hit since the end of July.
Series Recap: Taking 2 of 3 from the lowly Reds somehow feels like a disappointment. The Cubs should sweep these chumps, right? However, they are now 78-49, they've gone 13-5 this month, and tomorrow they host a team that's even worse than Cincinnati before traveling to the armpit of Pennsylvania to pummel on another crappy squad.
In other words, I'm not complaining, not by a long shot.
Current Record: 78-49
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5.5 games in front of Milwaukee and 8 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 113-49
Worst Possible Record: 78-84
On Pace For: 99-63
Magic Number: 30, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
Sorry Cub fans, but apparently our team won't be winning every single game from now until the playoffs. It appears that even at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will lose from time to time.
Ted Lilly lost for only the 4th time since his terrible start to the season, although he pitched well. Lilly went 7 innings, and gave up only 2 hits and 2 walks while allowing 2 earned runs and striking out 7. His ERA is down to 4.25 after this game, and I remain confident that he'll someday settle south of 4 on the season.
Offensively, while the Cubs walked 5 times, they only managed 3 hits and 1 run. (Somewhere, Dusty is shouting "see! I told you so!")
Alfonso Soriano allegedly cost the Cubs the game by failing to catch a flyball. There are a few insane Cub fans out there calling for the Fonz to be benched for Scrappy White Player Reed Johnson, but as previously mentioned, those fans are nutso.
The thing about Soriano is this - yes, his defensive miscues are always concerning. He sometimes loses focus on the bases and gets picked off. But for now, his pure talent surpasses his few flaws, and while he may be a stupid baseball player, he's not a selfish one. Perhaps someday, when his talent can no longer cover his flaws, the Fonz will be hated, but until that day comes, he's a hugely valuable asset.
The Cubs play the rubber game tonight. Carlos Zambrano has reportedly been working himself into a red rage for the last two days in preparation for this outing. He needs a win.
Thank you again, Dusty Baker. Thank you for insisting on using Corey Patterson and Paul Bako with regularity. (My personal theory is that you keep them - and other ex-Cubs and Giants - on the team so that, before games, they can encircle you and wistfully reminisce about the good ol' days, when you used to win.) Thank you for you stubborn belief that walks clog the bases, on account of how it's called hittin', not walkin'. Thank you for your apparent lack of concern regarding things like scouting, splits, and match-ups. Thank you, but I'm still beyond angry that the Cubs wasted three years of my life by insisting that you were somehow a competent manager.
Baseball has got to be the most philosophical of all the major sports. You don't often hear about a football coach starting a player based on a "gut feeling." But, in baseball above all others, there remains not just a fine line between managing with statistics and guts, but there still exists a flat-out resistance to trusting numbers over antiquated human intuition. On this blog, we tend to walk the line. We've got Colin, who uses numbers very wisely and well, and then we've got ... well, the rest of us, who spend half our time with our fingers in our ears and our eyes closed, shouting "not listening! not listening! not listening! la la la la!" and the other half of the time saying "ooooh, math! la la la la!"
To be fair, as valuable as they really are, I insist on arguing that there is a point where pure numbers aren't enough. For example if we relied on statistics alone, then without a moment's doubt, you want the guy with these numbers to be your closer: 33.1 IP, 33 Hits, 6 BB, 5 ER, 25 K, 1.18 WHIP, 1.35 ERA. Only there exists a mental side to the game. Maybe it's more obviously there in baseball, where a guy has 162 games to succeed or fail, as compared with football where he plays 16, or even basketball and hockey where they play 82 times. Regardless, that guy with those numbers, let's just call him LaTroy Hawkins.2004, it turns out that he doesn't want to be a closer. It turns out that the mental aspect of the game, the mind-blowing pressure of getting the last three outs with no room for error can be too much for a guy like LaTroy. But I digress - the vast majority of the time, you want that guy with the 1.35 ERA as your top reliever.*
(*Only some people might argue that you want your top reliever setting up the closer. Baseball can really make a body dizzy, eh?)
In Dusty Baker's world, baseball is heavy on the gut and light on the brain. Dusty's gut tells him that you put your center fielder at lead off, your second baseman in the #2 spot, and your best hitter in the #3 spot. Okay, maybe your center fielder walks about as much as your crippled grandfather, but so long as he's speedy, he bats leadoff. If it was good enough for that team Dusty once played for along with HANK AARON, then it's good enough for that team that Dusty Baker manages. Consequently, in a world where every stat is increasingly weighed more heavily, and in a league in which every smart manager looks for all possible advantages, Dusty gets left behind in the ... well, in the dust. In other, fewer words, Advantage Cubs.
Advantage Cubs, not that Rich Harden needed it. When Harden is zeroed in like tonight, no team in baseball is going to get much going against him. In this case, Harden went 7 innings, he gave up 2 hits, and he walked - shocker - 0 Reds while striking out 10 of them. The Reds lack of patience, mixed with Harden's lack of control problems, allowed Rich to exit the game having thrown only 94 pitches. The Cubs held only a fragile 1-run lead, but apparently teams that don't work pitching counts tend not to come back from deficits late in games. Consequently, Carlos Marmol pitched another inning of no-hit ball (I believe he is now up to 11.1 straight) and Kerry Wood entered in a no-save situation to finish the Reds Mortal Combat style. (In Lou's - and Wood's - defense, it was a save situation when Woody started warming up in the pen, but the Cubs offense came alive like Frampton in the bottom of the 8th).
Offensively, the Cubs nibbed at the Reds all night long. Cueto didn't do badly keeping them stymied; he only gave up 4 hits and walked 2 in 7 innings - and 111 pitches - of work. Yet, hardly an inning went by where Cueto wasn't in trouble. The Cubs had 2 runners on in the 2nd, Mark DeRosa hit a leadoff double in the 3rd, Ryan Theriot hit a leadoff double in the 4th, Geovany Soto hit a leadoff triple in the 5th, and the only time the Cubs turned an opportunity into a run was when Harden bunted Soto home.
Point of fact, Harden's bunt and Soto's score was awesome. Geovany played some great heads up baseball tonight. His triple happened because of a lot of hustle and smart base running, and he scored off the bunt because he very effectively shadowed Edwin Encarnacion at third, making a speedy charge for the plate after Harden's bunt was scooped and tossed to first. More impressive still, Kosuke Fukudome, who'd walked earlier that inning, wound up on third base from first while Soto slid home. Contrast that with Alfonso Soriano, who was picked off at first for the second time in a week. The Cubs aren't as bad at base-running as they were in Dusty's day, and in fact they are clearly fundamentally sound enough to make things happen, but the Fonz needs to keep his head in the game. Repeated pick-offs reak of loss of focus.
It looked as though it was meant to be a close game until the 8th, when the Cubs busted it open. Derrek, Aramis, and Kosuke all drove in runs while railing on Lincoln and Bray. All told, the Cubs scored 5 on 8 hits and 3 walks, and they are now 29 games over .500. But, best of all, both Milwaukee and St. Louis lost tonight, putting the Cubs 6 and 8.5 games ahead. Chicago is now tied with Tampa for the best record in all of baseball.
I didn't really get to blog about yesterday's game, which means that you were saved from having to read my frustration about the 8 hits and 7 walks that the Cubs failed to capitalize upon. Not that you would have gotten a lot of bile from me, as it would have been half-hearted at best. It's really very hard to be angry at this Cubs team, short of them running over my pet cats - and even then, I'd be more annoyed than anything.
Today's game provided plenty of reasons to feel joy. The Cubs, down 2-0 in the 7th, uncorked the bats* and in Anti-'03 Fashion, blew the lid off of Dolphins Stadium for 8 runs. The coolest thing was that they did it without homeruns - Soriano doubled in 2, Ramirez doubled in 2 more, Fukudome - who seems to be bouncing back and forth between his white bat and a black one - sac flied a run in (plus he made a stellar defensive grab early in the game), and Reed Johnson capped off the inning with the third double of that frame, this time for 3 more RBI.
(*perhaps a bad pun for a team that once employed Sammy Sosa)
Reed is now batting .314 as a Cub. Like Edmonds, Reed Johnson was a late acquisition by Jim Hendry, plucked from the scrap heap, who has turned into an invaluable member of the Cubs. If on April 1st you told me I would later say "I don't want to think about where the Cubs would be without Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds," I would have thought you were yanking my crank, which sounds particularly dirty. Moving on.
Ryan Dempster pitched 6 strong today. He left after 96 pitches, after having allowed 5 hits, 2 walks, and 2 earned runs. Oh, and he struck out 10. Clownsevelt is now 14-6. Never in a million years would I have expected this kind of production from him. We could make an argument that Dempster is the Cubs MVP this year, but the reality of it is that he'd be fighting with a crowd of players for that distinction. From Dempster, to DeRosa, to Soto, to the Fonz, the Cubs have had a number of players step up and do big things.
Oh, by the way, without much fanfare, Carlos Marmol has now gone 10.1 innings in a row without surrendering a hit, and his scoreless streak is up to 15 straight. Maybe he also should be included in the field of potential MVPs, and, retrospectively, he flat-out absolutely belonged at the All Star Game.
I hate the Fish. Perhaps more than any other team in baseball, I hate the Florida Marlins. I don't even hate the White Sox or the Cardinals, but after the 2003 NLCS, there is a vile spot in my stomach that belongs to that ragtag bunch of losers who can't even afford to keep a solitary good player who's eligible for arbitration.
Therefore, you can probably understand how satisfying it feels to see the Cubs travel down to the hole that is Dolphins Stadium and walk all over the Marlins. Sure, 2 games were close, but the Cubs now leave the putrid state of Florida with 2 wins in 3 tries (pretending the Rays never happened), and I feel slightly less nervous about the prospects of the Marlins storming the weak NL East and sneaking into the playoffs.
The Cubs, by the way, are now 76-48. 28 games over .500. They have a 31-31 record on the road. And they are back in Chicago on Tuesday, hosting the lowly, bottom-feeding Reds. They've already got 11 wins this month, with 13 remaining it does not seem out of the question that the Cubs might exit August with 20 wins in total. Best yet, on July 17th, the Cubs were 57-39. Since that time, they've gone 19-9. They are piling on wins, and somewhere, a Brewers fan is weeping, while a Cardinals fan is at this point too numb to feel.
Current Record: 76-48
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5.5 games in front of Milwaukee and 7.5 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 114-48
Worst Possible Record: 76-86
On Pace For: 99-63
Magic Number: 34, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com