I'm away from home tonight, so there isn't a lot of time for any recap.
Instead, I will leave you with these thoughts:
1. Bob Howry tried his hardest to give up a homer in his inning of work, but the Marlins managed to non-chalantly turn their backs while whistling, allowing him to escape unscathed.
2. Henry Blanco was recently voted most likely to shiv you in a shower.
3. I can't say that I blame Fontenot for not throwing his tiny frame across the plate in an attempt to make contact with what should have been called a ball. However, after the home plate umpire called it a strike the first time, then Fontenot should have been playing a more defensive game with his bat.
4. Can't win 'em all. Gotta take 'em one day at a time. God willing, the Cubs will catch them the next time. Let's wait and see what happens. And other cliches. Go Cubs.
About a month ago, the Cubs were a bad team on the road, the Brewers were surging, and Kerry Wood was nursing a blister from hell.
On this day, after beating the Florida Marlins, the Cubs are one of only a handful of teams with a non-losing road record, the Brewers are eating dust in the rear-view, and Kerry Wood is walking a line once trod by Rod Beck - albeit without the cocaine or hookers. Chicago has now won their last 5 games in a row, including a streak of 9 straight on the road dating back to July 23. Even more impressive, they've also amassed a winning streak of 1 game against Florida in Florida dating back to, like, 2005 or something. That's quite the impressive streak, and it truly examples how the most important win is the one that just happened, the most important game is the one that comes tomorrow, and the past, just like the future, should have no weight in the present. Or at least it aught to. If the Cubs can enter the playoffs with that kind of mentality, then dominance and victory shouldn't be too far off.
Anyway, the game looked pretty well over after Carlos Zambrano coughed up 4 runs in the 3rd, putting the Cubs behind the Fish 5-1. Chicago retaliated with 2 in the 4th off of a DeRosa 2-run homer, and that appeared to be the end of any offense for either team.
Carlos was not at his best, although he managed to buckle down and throw 6 innings on - guh - 119 pitches, 62 for strikes. He walked 5, struck out 6, and probably had a few miniature strokes while flipping out between innings. A solid 2-inning relief appearance by the underrated Chad Gaudin kept the game close, but nobody could have predicted that it would come down to the bat of one man who, having gone 4 for 40 as a pinch hitter this year, stepped up to the plate in the top of the 9th with 2 on and 1 out. Darryl Ward proceeded to hit a homerun, proving yet again that any goat can be a hero for a day. Cub bloggers everywhere, who have long been calling for Ward's release, are probably pleasantly silenced for one night. However, this blog will stick to its guns and insist that Ward leaves baseball for his natural second calling - using his massive posterior as a life-saving emergency floatation device for white water rafters who have toppled into the drink.
After Ward elevated the Cubs to their first lead since the 2nd inning, Kerry Wood stepped in for his first close save situation since his return from the DL. He made things interesting. He walked Haney Ramirez, he hit Cantu after wild-pitching Ramirez to second, and then he struck out Amezaga to end the game.
The Cubs are now 28 games over .500 and 5 games ahead of the Brewers, who play the Dodgers starting about 10 minutes from now. In all of baseball, only the Angels have a bigger lead over the 2nd place team. I'll leave you with that.
In tonight's game, Atlanta's hitters finally remembered how to do their jobs, but not until after the Cubs continued their torrid offensive onslaught.
The Cubs pummeled Tom Glavine, lighting him up for 7 earned runs in 4 innings of work. (Memo to Glavine: mmm, retirement.) Chicago hitters combined for 14 hits, 8 walks, and they scored 11 runs. Every regular contributed, with the biggest nights coming from the Fonz and Aramis, who hit homeruns and combined to drive in 5 runs. Other fun figures - Lee, Soto, DeRosa, and Reed Johnson all hit doubles. Soto was one of only two regulars to only get one hit - but, then again, he drew 3 walks. Aramis was 2 for 2 when he left the game due to a hip contusion that shouldn't keep him out of the lineup at all. Oh, and the Braves cried a lot.
On the pitching front, Lilly gave a mehdiocre performance. He allowed 4 earned in 6 innings, primarily off of 8 hits. But, hey, he also struck out 8 while walking only 2 and, best yet, he won his 12th game of the year. Did anybody in early May think that Ted Lilly would ever be 12-6 at any point this season?
Meanwhile, somewhere right now there's a guy on a bus keeping a seat warm for Howry. He allowed 4 more hits tonight, 3 of which turned into runs, thanks to a 3-run shot by Jeff Francoeur. Damn you, Howry! Ahem. More impressive is that Mark Kotsay, who went 5 for 5, hit for the cycle in a loss. As far as I know, the last time an opponent hit for the cycle in a loss was Willie Magee in 1984 in the game that will always be known as The Sandberg Game. You know what else happened in 1984?
Anyway, the Cubs have now won 8 straight on the road. This is the first time they've won 8 straight since 1945. Do you know what else happened in 1945?
One last thing. I forgot to mention that, yesterday, the Cubs won both double headers by 8 runs, something that hasn't happened since 1908. Do you know what else happened in 1908?
Series Recap: I have man-love for Carlos Marmol. Since July 20th, Marmol has gone 13 innings without allowing a run to score. In that time, he's given up 2 hits, 8 walks, and he's struck out 17.
He's also gone 8.1 innings in a row without surrendering a hit. In that time, he's walked 3, and he's struck out 12.
One month ago, his ERA was 4.13. Today, it's 2.89. In other words, it's dropped 1.24 runs in less than 30 days; in fact, it's taken 19.
For that reason and more, the Cubs have swept the Braves. They are now 4.5 games ahead of the Brewers and 7.5 games up on the Cardinals. They have won 4 straight and 7 of their last 8. In their last 17, they are 14-3. They have pulled within a win of a .500 record on the road. The Brewers have been one of the hottest teams in baseball, and yet they are 4.5 games out.
Team of destiny, anybody?
Current Record: 74-47
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4.5 games in front of Milwaukee and 7.5 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 115-47
Worst Possible Record: 74-88
On Pace For: 99-63
Magic Number: 37, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
Rumor has it that it's a pretty hard feat to win both games of a double header. I imagine it is perhaps even tougher when your team plays poorly on the road. Then, take that difficulty factor and multiply it times Marquis. In other words, Double Header(Cubs+Road Series) x Marquis = Very Unlikely, but it still happened anyway. That's just the kind of season we're watching.
The Cubs have now won 7 games straight on the road. Even though St. Louis won earlier today, and even though the Brewers are winning as of this writing, both will lose ground today to a team that outscored their opponent 18-2.
In the first game, the Cubs knocked 14 hits while drawing 6 walks. They had multi-hit games from 6 of 8 starters; the 1-for-5 Derrek Lee and 0-for-4 Kosuke Fukudome the only two sad participants. Geovany Soto and Jim Edmonds both hit homers and doubles. Mark DeRosa went 2 for 3 with 2 walks, a double, and a steal.
It was pretty much More of the Same in game two. The Cubs achieved 10 more hits, they drew 6 more walks, and while nobody hit homeruns, all but 2 regulars got hits. One such regular who successfully put wood to leather was Fukudome, who went 2 for 5 with 2 RBI. All this in comparison to an Atlanta team that combined for 12 hits in both games, and only 3 in their second loss of the night.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the night comes from Jason Marquis, who arguably out-pitched Rich Harden. Marquis only threw 5.1 innings of work, but he only walked 2 while giving up 6 hits. In contrast, Harden walked 5 in his 5 innings of work while giving up 2 hits. It was not Rich's best night, even if Atlanta tried valiantly to make it look like it was.
The Cubs used 6 relievers over the span of the 2 games, and only Neal Cotts was used in both. He went 1.2 innings total, striking out 2 and allowing 1 hit, and the Cubs pen in total pitched 7.2 innings, allowing 4 hits, 1 walk, and 0 runs, while striking out 7.
This puts the Cubs at 73-47, or 26 games over .500. A very rudimentary search of previous seasons tells me that the last time a Cubs team was 26 over .500 was in 1984; the date in which they achieved that total was August 29th, when they were 79-53. They'd finish the year 96-65, 31 games over the .500 mark.
It's August 13th and the Cubs are on pace to do better. In fact, at their current pace, the Cubs are en route to their best record since ... 1945, when they won 98 games. But more importantly, they remain above the pack in the NL. I'm stating the obvious, but it would be fantastic if they entered the playoffs with home field advantage.
If you were a Cubs fan who has lived through 1974, 1980, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2006, then you have seen in this season a Cubs team that's won more games than any of those other Cub teams from those years in 47 fewer games played. Imagine that - the Cubs in the first week of August have already eclipsed Chicago teams that belong in our worst baseball nightmares. It shouldn't give us a feeling of accomplishment; we should be outraged that the Cubs have given us so many wasted seasons.
However, let's take comfort in this - it may not end in the achievment of the ultimate goal, but 2008 does not appear to be another one of those hopeless, wasted years. At the very least, this Cubs team should reach the playoffs, quite possibly with the best record in the National League, and there's a simple reason why. These guys play good baseball and they get big hits. Today was another example of that.
Apparently, Lou Piniella does not read this Cubs blog, to my surprise. If he did, then he might realize the futility that comes with throwing strikes to Carlos "Cliff" Lee. When a Cubs pitcher throws strikes to Carlos Lee, the ball tends to wind up a long ways away from the catcher's mitt, usually by at least 400-or-so feet. In the 3rd inning today, after having surrendered an RBI to Lance Berkman, wonderful* Cubs pitcher Jason Marquis decided that Carlos Lee at the plate with runners on was the equivalent of No Bubbles, No Troubles. He proceeded to deliver to the Astros a 3-run lead on a silver tray, as Lee predictably smacked a 3-run shot into the atmosphere.
(*You don't think Marquis fits the definition of "wonderful?" C'mon, every time he pitches, aren't you filled with wonder about why Jim Hendry saw fit to give him a multi-year contract?)
But, hey, it was okay. It's just that kind of year for the Cubs. They score 4, the Cubs score 4 more. In the bottom of the 3rd, with 2 outs and 2 strikes against him, Mark DeRosa hit a clutch grand slam that was really just the opening card to the main event that is the continued dominance of Alfonso Soriano. (Phew, that sentence was a keyboard-full.) Soriano, who saw his second at bat of the inning thanks to a Fukudome double, a Soto walk, and, more impressive, a double by Marquis, hit another homerun, his 5th since returning from a broken hand*, putting the Cubs in the lead for good. I could almost hear the fight leave the Astros, which was a pretty impressive feat since I was working at the time and I could only follow the game through a sports ticker.
(*Rumor has it that broken hands often cause players to lose power. Maybe that's the case with Soriano, which makes me think that a fully healthy Fonz would be putting up Nintendo Numbers right now. As it is, he's already resembling Roy Hobbs. Luckily for him, Kim Basinger has hit the wall, so he won't have that temptation waiting to toss him back into a month-long slump.)
The Cubs added on to their absurd score in the 4th, giving them 11 runs on the game. All told, the immense Chicago Juggernoffense (I'm coining that phrase, which I'm sure will not be contested since it's pretty lame) had 11 hits, drew 6 walks, and forced an average of 35 tears to trickle down the faces of most Astro fans out there. Jason Marquis went 6.1 innings, looked as mediocore as usual, but still was able to walk away with his 7th win of the season. All told, not a bad day ... or a bad series.
If the Cubs are able to win 2 out of every 3 games they play this month, then they'll be in a pretty good position come September. As it is, they probably could have swept Houston, but the weather did not cooperate and apparently our Cubs preferred to lose in an offensive sputter rather than win while risking a lightning strike. It's okay, if your friends ask about the near-tornado, just tell them that it was the first seal of the apocalypse cracking open. Forgive me if I'm recycling a joke I've made about six times in the last two days.
The Cubs will now enjoy an off-day before hosting a 3-game set against St. Louis. The Cardinals are perilously on the brink of becoming a non-factor this season. If they lose tonight and tomorrow, then they will be 7 games out of 1st place, and a Cubs sweep will put them in Pittsburgh territory on the year. I'm not saying it'll happen, or even that it's likely to happen, but a Cub fan can wish, right? And, hey, it really might happen. It's just that kind of year.
Current Record: 69-46
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and 6 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 116-46
Worst Possible Record: 69-93
On Pace For: 97-65
Magic Number: 43, as powered by CubsMagicNumber.com
Bob Howry has got to go. Not that it's entirely his fault - Rich Harden was cruising like a missile until the wheels came off after the 5th inning. Hey, it was bound to happen. But the problem remains in Bob Howry, whose presence on this team does not justify the promise of a sandwich draft pick next year. Screw the draft pick, either send him home with Mystery Fatigue or send him home with You Suck Too Much to Play Disease.
Thankfully, the Cubs offense was there to make it all moot. The team combined for 14 hits, 5 walks, and they scored 11 runs thanks in part to huge days by Alfonso Soriano (3 for 5, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI), Derrek Lee (4 for 5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 Runs) and Mark DeRosa (3 for 5, 2 2B, 3 RBI).
Back to Harden for a minute - so, he got chased 2 outs into the 6th. His only issue remains his recurring problem with surrendering the homerun, but I would like to point out some very happy statistics for you: tonight included, Harden has pitched 30 innings, of which he's struck out 47 while walking 12. In his last two outings, he's walked 1. No complaints there.
Speaking of complaints, Bob Howry continued the cycle of abuse - he pitched to Carlos Lee. Carlos Lee scores more often against Chicago than A-Rod does at the Penthouse Club. I swear to the lord, I don't care the scenario, in any close game from here on out, Carlos Lee Must Walk. It should be written into Piniella's book, it should be drilled into the brains of all hapless Cub pitchers everywhere, and, for God's sake, it should be tattooed on Bob Howry's pupils so he can't help but see it at all times.
The Cubs and Astros play the rubber game tomorrow. If it was anything like today, it will be a great game.
The Cubs lost to the Astros tonight, as between tornadoes they were unable to rev up their offense. Of course, we will never know for sure what would've happened in a fair weather evening, nor will we know what would've happened in the 9th, but if the previous 8 innings are any indication, the Cubs would have quickly and weakly ended the game as they apparently were not in favor of playing through the first seal of the Apocalypse.
Dempster pitched well in his 5 innings, but not enough to avoid the loss as he made the rookie mistake of pitching to Carlos Lee. He also walked a runner home in the 4th. This isn't shocking as Ryan has always been a lack-of-control pitcher, but it's ironic because it was the only free pass he issued in his 5 innings of work. Offensively, the Cubs left 6 men stranded throughout the night.
And, really, that's all I've got about the game. Chicagoans, remember, double check that all your stuff is still there. Cub fans all around the world, the most interesting story may be the collapse of the Brewers, who are tussling with each other and appear to be cracking at the seams. But I wouldn't get too excited - a year ago, the Cubs team was suffering from infighting as well. We all know the result of that.
I'll be honest - I missed everything since Friday. I went on a mini-vacation this weekend, and consequently did not know that the Cubs had won the last 2 games of the series until a few hours ago. Let's not get too thrilled by it - the Cubs should always, always beat teams as rotten as Pittsburgh. In fact, I remain disappointed that they failed to sweep. However, before you think I protest too much, I don't think a Cub fan out there can be upset with the 5 and 6 game leads held over the second and third place teams in the Central right now.
Offensively, in their 2 wins, the cubs combined for 21 hits, 7 walks, and 13 runs scored. Reed Johnson had a huge Saturday, going 3 for 4 with a double, but he made his biggest impact on Sunday when he hit a 2-run, pinch hit homerun in the 8th. He was followed that game by Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 19th of the season.
Ted Lilly acheived his 11th win of the season, but Carlos missed out on his 13th as he opted to exit early, his eyes set on the playoffs and staying fresh. His game was almost spoiled by Chad Gaudin, who was booed mercilessly for his efforts, but who won for the 3rd time since coming to Chicago thanks to Johnson and Soriano's back-to-back homeruns.
Carlos Marmol was wasted on Saturday, pitching a flawless and pointless 9th inning, and he gave Cub fans reasons to be wasted on Sunday, pitching another strong 9th for his 6th save of the season. He's definitely back on track since the All Star Break, but sweet fancy Jesus, Lou, use him wisely!
And the Cubs now enter Houston, which should be a fine tune-up for the St. Louis series.
Hey, I'm not crazy enough to suggest that this is a definite scenario, but as the Cubs battle a fairly light-weight team, the Cardinals will be squaring off against playoff-bound juggernaut Los Angeles, which I write only somewhat sarcastically*. If - big if here - the Cubs play well against Houston, and if the Cardinals struggle against the Dodgers, then Chicago will find themselves in the rare and happy position of landing St. Louis an early-August killing blow. The stars will have to work valiantly to align themselves, but could St. Louis be 10 games out a week from tomorrow?
Nah. But it surely would be cool.
(*Damn them for acquiring Manny! Dammmmnnn theeeeemmmmmmm!!!)
Current Record: 67-45
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and 6 ahead of St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 117-45
Worst Possible Record: 67-95
On Pace For: 97-65
Magic Number: 46
Does anyone else think this has the makings of a let down game. Coming off a HUGE sweep of the Brewers the Cubs now face the Pirates, a team they have decimated. It seems to me that the Cubs could be looking past the Pirates and their next opponent, the Astros, and looking towards a big series against the Cardinals. - Goat Reader kcassidy
Hey, when you're right, you're right. After having beaten the Brewers to within an inch of their lives on the road, the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field yesterday only to see their resurgent offense shutdown by a young ex Yankee who had previously never done anything worth writing about.
While that is surprising, the real shocker of the game probably comes from Jason Marquis, who pitched 6 strong innings of 3-run baseball. He was complimented by Neal Cotts, Jeff Samardzija, and Carlos Marmol, who combined for 6 strikeouts in 3 innings of relief work - or 4 more strikeouts than what Marquis got his entire start.
Offensively, it was there, but it just wasn't clicking. The Cubs drew 7 walks, they managed 5 hits, but as a team they left 8 on base and were unable to deliver the killing blows. A week ago, that was par for the course and we would be very frustrated and nervous right now. Today, we are probably more apt to see it as a blip in an otherwise unstoppable offensive machine, and I for one expect retribution tonight against the Pirates.
Without mercy, without any indication of it being a struggle, in fact, with poise and determination, the Cubs all-out slaughtered the Brewers today. I think that pretty well sums up any kind of necessary game recap, but let's look a little closer.
Apparently, Jim Edmonds has been reading the news, and he must have learned that Jim Hendry was shopping around for another outfielder, because he responded with 2 hits in 3 at bats - both homeruns, one a grand slam. Edmonds now has 12 homeruns with the Cubs and remains an amazingly valuable offensive asset.
Perhaps one of the most compelling statistics from today's game was this: after 6 innings, the Cubs had scored 5 runs, all while the 1-4 batters in the lineup had started the game 0 for 10. On top of the 2 homers by Edmonds, Soriano hit another homerun, as did Fukudome, who went 2 for 4. Kosuke, who'd been in the throws of a terrible slump - he batted .224 in the month of July - received 14 of his 21 hits this past month after the All Star Break. He's batting .298 since the break and, hopefully, he's back on track.
However, while the Cubs offense continued to reduce Brewer fans to tears, the story of the night was Rich Harden. Since coming to the Cubs, Harden had been a tough-luck starter. However, he managed his first win of the season for Chicago by throwing 7 strong innings, while allowing 6 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 9. The one run against him was a homer, and Harden how has an ERA of 1.11 with the Cubs.
I briefly discussed his incredible pitching with Jon Miller earlier, and I said that he may have supplanted Carlos as the team's ace. Jon then asked me who I'd want starting in Game One of a short series, and without hesitation I said "Carlos Zambrano!" Feel free to disagree with me, but I suspect that few of you will.
4 games, 4 wins, 31 runs scored against 11 allowed, 49 total hits, 17 walks, and if you listen carefully you can hear the sound of hearts breaking all throughout the land of cheese and beer. The Cubs entered the series having gone 3-6 since the break, and having seen their lead dwindle to 1 game. Now, they are 5 games up on either 2nd place team, and they have finished the month of July by going 15-11 in 26 games. So much for a July swoon.
It's already becoming a philosophical debate here and elsewhere. Aren't these just your typical Cubs? They're good enough to tantelize you; hell, they should even be good enough to play in October. And yet, some people are able to find a fundamental flaw with them - that flaw being, apparently, their inability to win every game (or at least every series) with comfortable dominance.
Here's the thing - no team can do that, but this team has shown that they can do a lot of other things right. For example:
- While not defensively flashy, they remain defensively sound. This is something that we are still not used to, having endured The Dusty Years.
- On any given day, their 5-8 hitters can light up a team. I can't emphasize how rare and amazing that is.
- Top to bottom, even including Marquis, the Cubs have to have one of the best rotations in baseball. Seriously. Only Oakland has a better team ERA for its starters, and do you know why that is? Because they had Rich effin' Harden for the first half of the season!!! The best team in the AL, the Angels, comes closest in having top-to-bottom quality starters, but the Cubs win pound-for-pound.
- Oh, and did we mention the bullpen? Even with the struggles of Marmol, even without the presence of Wood, the Cubs have a team ERA of 3.99. Not the best in the league right now, but I don't think we can complain much by the works of Wood, Marmol, Gaudin, and when they're back and healthy, Wuertz and Lieber. Not to mention the sensation that is Samardzija.
All of this is my way of simply saying that the Cubs are stacked. After having beaten the Brewers at home, I for one am strongly looking forward to the coming month. They have the capability of being 10 ahead of the 2nd place team come September 1st.
And, if that happens - or even comes close to happening - it'll be pretty hard not to believe that these guys are the real deal, and our best chance of ending the World Series drought in any of our life times. Go Cubs.
Current Record: 65-44
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 5 games in front of Milwaukee and St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 118-44
Worst Possible Record: 65-97 - the Cubs are now 1 win away from equalling their total number of wins in Baker's last season
On Pace For: 97-65
Magic Number: 49