It's apparently hard to win baseball games when your sole offensive contribution is your moose-like starting pitcher. Carlos Zambrano tried to git 'er done by himself last night, but his solo homerun in the 7th wasn't enough to make up for the 4 runs he gave up to the Astros.
The good news - The Cubs managed to account for a respectable 9 hits, including 3 from the leadoff man Ryan Theriot. The bad news - they failed to capitalize on any runners-on situation in the game. Consequently, they are relying on a pitcher who has yet to win a game on the road in order to avoid an opening-series sweep to start the second half.
Carlos was ineffective-at-best. He pitched into the 7th, but he walked 6 and surrendered 6 hits. Before the break, Zambrano was on a pitch count and he delivered two very effective performances. It's likely that the Cubs are no longer monitoring his arm, consequently we saw a return of Erratic Carlos.
Chad Gaudin, meanwhile, continues to pitch well for the Cubs. He finished up the game with 1.2 innings of no-hit, no-walk ball, and he is quickly ascending to the position where he may need to supplant Marmol as the setup man of choice for Lou.
The Cubs play to avoid the sweep today. Look at it this way, folks. We know they have the firepower, we know they have the arms, the offense will come around soon enough, and today is as good a time as any to lay a whuppin' on an NL Central opponent.
(Box score graphic to be added later, after I restart my computer)
The Cubs initiated the second half last night with a brilliant, 2 Step Plan. Step 1 was to suppress the Astros offense through top-notch pitching, and Step 2 was to dominate them through an offense akin to the thunder of gods. Unfortunately, the Cubs left the thunder in the clubhouse.
Ted Lilly continues to give solid performances, and last night was no exception. He went 7 innings last night, on 104 pitches, and gave up only 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 6. Unfortunately, Lilly was not perfect, and he gave up a solo shot to Carlos Lee. The Cubs have had a very tough run of luck with Lee, and yet they still pitch to him. Considering that Tejada has been offensively average this year, it may make more sense in the rest of this series to pitch around Lee to get to Miguel, even though Tejada went 3 for 4 last night, including 2 for 3 against Lilly.
The big problem was that, offensively, the Cubs looked as though they'd had a pep talk from Dusty Baker before the start of the game. They weren't patient at the plate - Moehler needed only 87 pitches to get through the 7th inning - and the Cubs drew only 1 walk while getting 4 hits.
The good news is that Dusty's shadow is fleeting these days, and I have a feeling that the Cubs will bounce back and do what they've done well all year - get walks, make clutch hits, and score lots of runs.
And now, a lovely photoshop mocking the Astros.
Welcome to your late Sunday night post extravaganza. In this article, I will not only:
- Recap the game and the final series before the break
- Discuss the younger players on the team
but I will also post the final photoshop of the first half, a biting and scathing commentary on the monterey excess of the Giants and how it's gotten them nowhere so far. Yep, it's gonna be a good'un.
So, not surprisingly, Tim Lincecum proved to be unbeatable today. It's hard to blame Clownsevelt for losing - when facing the opposing team's best pitcher, scoring 2 runs in a game just won't cut it.
Perhaps the best news of the loss is the continued resurgence of Jim Edmonds, who went 1 for 3 with another run driven in. He'd been slumping horribly since the start of July, but went 3 for 8 against the Giants with a homer, 2 doubles, and 5 RBI.
Additionally, Chad Gaudin might just become the de facto setup man so long as Marquis remains a Cub and Harden remains healthy. He pitched another 2 solid innings today, striking out 2 and giving up a single hit. He only needed 23 pitches - 17 for strikes.
Ironically, Carlos Marmol has become a de facto All Star as Kerry Wood will be missing the game due to a blister. By default, this gives the Cubs eight All Stars this season, a team record, even if 2 of the 8 will be watching from the proverbial gurney in the dugout.
Anyway, as far as this goes, I have nothing else to say about this specific game. It was a dud, but we all sort of expected it to be. Not even the great Clownsevelt can win them all at home, but he's shown that he'll win most.
This was a series of highs and lows. The Cubs exit with a solid lead in the central and a handful of aces on their squad, although their setup man has proven to be perhaps hopelessly flapped. I realize that we sometimes get a little bit of flack for not piling onto poor performances - if our readers had it their way, we would have already chucked Derrek Lee and Michael Wuertz into the flames, where they would've been greeted by Aramis Ramirez if one of our less-legendary ex writers had it his way. So, while Marmol has certainly proven that he can't be trusted, I think it'd be stupid-at-the-very-least to suggest he's pitching with a Rich Hill Brand Fork stuck in him.
All of this is a lesson, by the way. The Giants had a costly win now mentality for too long, and they're paying for it now. Consequently, they're also paying from out of their pockets for overpriced players, Zito in particular. Tell me something, Giants fans, is this the image you really wanted to see this year?
I think, all told, the final line really says everything that's important:
Current Record: 57-38 (tying them for the best record in all of baseball)
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4.5 games in front of St. Louis
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 63-4
The Cub Youth Movement
But wait, there's even more content to be had!
A year ago, the Cubs were also making a playoff charge at this time. They were doing it primarily on the backs of a number of young players - many of whom we now take for granted. However, let's take a closer look at some of these young studs who have performed so well for the Cubs:
Theriot and Fontenot: Last year, I likened Theriot and Fontenot to Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton. In '89, Smith and Walton finished back-to-back in the Rookie of the Year vote, as their contributions definitely pushed the Cubs into the playoffs. Last year, although they eventually tapered off, Theriot and Fontenot were essential players to the success of the Cubs. Theriot batted .348 with an OBP of .437 last July, which he followed up by batting a more reasonable .276 with a .315 OBP in August, before he eventually fell off the face of the earth in September. All told, he finished with a .266 AVG and .326 OBP with 28 steals in 32 attempts in his first full season in the majors. Fontenot did similar work last year, batting .397 in 78 at bats in June with 15 RBI before losing favor with Lou later in the year after he stopped putting up super-human numbers. Still, Fontenot batted .278 with a .336 OBP in 234 at bats last year.
This season, Theriot and Fontenot are having more successful sophomore seasons. In about 90 fewer at bats, the 28-year-old Fontenot has 4 more homeruns than he had last season, he's already got 21 RBI, he's drawn 1 less walk, and he's already hit as many doubles. Theriot, meanwhile, is batting .320 with an OBP of .394 and 15 steals (although he's been caught 9 times) and, in a full 190 fewer at bats, he's already drawn 41 walks compared with last year's total of 49.
As the Cubs continue to succeed, these guys are big reasons why.
Geovany Soto: When Soto was promoted to the majors last year, he'd already set the PCL ablaze. However, that's a league very notorious for inflated power numbers, and yet the young Soto quickly won the confidence of Lou Piniella by batting .389 with 3 homers and 8 RBI in just 18 games. In fact, Soto was the primary starter in the NLDS, which has to be unheard of for a young catcher.
In other words, the Cubs have this season a rookie catcher who's starting the All Star Game and already has playoff experience - and a post season homer. Pretty weird. All that said, Soto appears to be the real deal, rather than a mirage of Rick Wilkins-like proportions. He's hit 16 homers in his first full season, and he is presently on pace for 42 doubles, 28 homers, 99 RBI, and 74 walks. One small bit of warning - Soto is also on pace to play in 155 games this year. If Lou doesn't rest him a little more often, then his numbers are going to suffer.
Ronny Cedeno: I'm still harboring hope that he'll be traded, because there's just something about the guy that rubs me the wrong way. However, at the age of 25, Cedeno does have one odd statistic that looks better than it means - in 130 at bats and in 35 hits, Cedeno has 20 RBI and, hell, he's even got an OBP of .340. It's been a while since it happened, but for a while there Ronny was getting more clutch hits than Prince has gotten hot trim. He's won some game for the Cubs, but as Rob would argue, he's about as baseball smart as the guy who reared him, Dusty Baker, and that's problematic.
Sean Marshall: More trade bait. Last year, Marshall started 19 games for the Cubs. He went 7-8, he had an ERA of 3.92, and he at times looked, erm, not unimpressive. This year, Marshall has again at times stepped in as a starter, although he now is pitching out of the pen, and he has an ERA of 3.81 in 28.1 innings of work.
Maybe Marshall will contribute, maybe he'll be traded, but he's proven to be a not bad player, kind of like Fontenot, Theriot, or Wuertz. Look at it this way, folks - no team can field nothing but All Stars.
Carlos Marmol: A huge contributor to last year's playoff run, Marmol was as much a guarnatee as prom night action until the past month. He's already thrown 52.1 innings of work. I'll say it again - Lou needs to manage him differently. Even as the Cubs drive forward, Marmol's story will become increasingly interesting. I hate to toss out that trite cliche, but, it'll be interesting to see what happens.
It was a game that should have ended in '08's magical Cub number - 7. The Cubs scored 7 runs through 9 innings, and that should have made the difference, all until Carlos Marmol came out to pitch in the 9th, looking nauseated and flat. But we'll get to that later.
This should have been an entirely different game with an entirely different ending, although I can't contest that the ending we received might not have actually been better than the one we'd been likely to get. Dick Harden made his Wrigley Field and Cubs debut today, and he entirely lived up to his promise. He threw into the 6th inning, he allowed 5 hits, 3 walks, and he struck out 10 guys. Now, I actually have a few points I need to make about Rich before moving on to the other, pressing issues. So:
- He absolutely flat-out reminds me of Prior 2003. In '03, Mark Prior could have changed his name to Cy Young and the courts wouldn't have contested it. You knew by watching him that he knew that any situation was escapable, and while Harden had a couple of situations that would have unsettled lesser pitchers, he never appeared to lose control. In the 2nd inning, he allowed a lead-off double to Aaron Rowand, and he then proceeded to strike out the next 2 batters he faced before ending it with a weak foul-out by Vizquel. Two other examples - the 5th inning, in which Harden got the first 2 outs before San Fran managed 2 singles, only for it to be for naught as Harden grounded out Durham to end the inning, and, most importantly, the 6th. In the 6th inning, Harden allowed a Molina double and walked Rowand. Lou trotted out with 2 men warming up in the pen, and after talking it over with Harden he left him in. Rich then easily struck out Bowker, meaning that he exited on a high note as Lou was apparently keeping him on a 100 pitch count today.
- I'm obviously no pitching expert, but I tried to pick up the hitch in his delivery that has caused his shoulder so many problems and what I saw looked minimal. There are other pitchers out there - BJ Ryan in particular - who pitch like they have arm injuries waiting to happen, but the violence in Harden's delivery didn't actually seem all that bad to me. He did throw the ball hard, getting up to the high 90's, and he was able to mix speeds and locations very effectively.
And that's all I have to say about Harden, for now.
While Harden was busy making Jim Hendry look like a genius, the Cubs offense was fast at work early in the game. They scored 7 runs in the first 4 innings, and today's offensive MVP has to be Jim "Sleeper Agent" Edmonds. J.Ed went 2 for 4 with his 10th homer and double of the year and 4 RBI. Point of fact, the Cubs managed 14 hits this game, they drew 8 walks, they chased Correia in the 4th inning, and they threatened in both the 10th and 11th innings before they were able to capitalize on their opportunities and win the game on a close play at the plate off of a Reed Johnson single. It's comforting to see how good the offense truly is.
The pitching, meanwhile, is solid. Except for Marmol.
Just think, if Marmol was Wuertz, certain readers of this blog would probably be flipping out. Instead, though, Marmol is an incredibly talented young pitcher with amazing stuff who just can't get it done right now. Part of it his his fault, part of it is Lou's, and part of it is circumstance. For example, the Giants really didn't hit him all that hard today, and 2 of their early, inning-shattering hits were crappy-at-best. I'm talking about Castillo's single off of a diving Marmol's glove for one - this occurred after the 1st out had been made in the 9th. Had circumstances been a little different, Marmol would have gloved it and gunned it, and with 2 outs it's hard to say if Durham would've followed it up with a hit.
Even then, after 2 runs had scored, Bowker grounded into what should have been an inning-ending double play situation, but the throw to Marmol at first was errant and, rather than end the game, it just compounded things. Marmol followed up that odd play by hitting Aurilia and getting examined by the trainer, Lou, and Larry before completing the inning. But the weirdness didn't end - Marmol induced a grounder to short, which was just a little out of Theriot's range (Colin? Feel free to comment on the mediocrity of Theriot's range, it almost cost the Cubs a win today), who then made perhaps the dumbest throw to second I've ever seen. Lying flat on his back after having scooped up the ball, Theriot floats a toss over to DeRosa, making it easy for Burriss to score and tie the game.
Only then, after all that ridiculous drama, did Marmol get out of the inning. Now the part where I throw Lou under the bus for this mess.
Lou Piniella should have yanked him just a little sooner, or perhaps he should have kept him out of the game all together. When Marmol entered the 9th, the Cubs were winning 7-2. Lieber and Marshall were also in the pen. Rather than give either of those guys a little extra work, Piniella chose to trot out Carlos Marmol. Maybe it's a confidence thing, maybe it's a showing support thing, I don't know. But if Marmol is supposed to be the team's top setup guy, then why is he pitching in a 9th inning of a blowout? Makes no sense.
Point of fact, Carlos Marmol has seen way too many innings way too soon this year. If you were watching the game today, you would have heard Bob Brenley say, almost wistfully, "maybe the break will help Carlos recharge for the long-haul of the second half." Sure, while you're at it, why don't you take a crap in the other hand, Bob. We'll see how it turns out.
In all seriousness, Lou and Larry need to sit down and completely re-evaluate how they use Marmol. They need to cut back on his innings, they probably need to either a) keep him out of all close games or, b) limit him to only close games while c) pitching him no more often than every other day for the next month or two. (I'm not suggesting B is the best option at this stage, just so we're clear.)
If they don't do these things, then they will eventually wind up having to shut him down because either Marmol's head won't be right, or his arm won't be. Something is going wrong in there, one way or the other. Which brings me to the part where I throw Marmol under the bus as well.
To summarize my points so far, I've said: 1) Circumstances were tough on Marmol tonight, it wasn't his fault that there were bonehead defensive plays, nor was it his fault that the ball got hit in the infield just out of the reach of multiple gloves, and B) Lou really should figure out a different way to mange him, as he is currently contributing toward what I would call the destruction of Marmol's career.
But regardless of those two points, at the end of the day, Marmol's job is basically to not care. Some jabrone opened the inning by hitting a double off of him? Marmol shouldn't care. Strike out the next batter, finish these idiots quickly. Some schmuck manages a bloop infield hit off of Marmol's glove? Marmol shouldn't care. Induce a double play ball and get it over with. Oop, the double play gets mangled? Marmol shouldn't care, get one more out.
The problem is, Marmol cares. You can see it on his face. He's not confident out there. And, as I described earlier in this post, he looks nauseated and his stuff looks flat. It's not an official rule in baseball, not by any means, but if ever there should be an unofficial rule in baseball, it's this one:
If your reliever/closer looks nauseated when pitching close-and-late, then it's time to find a new reliever/closer.
As much a valuable tool as Marmol has been in Lou's belt, he can't rely on the guy any longer. Bump him back to the 6th or 7th. Give Marshall, Cotts, or hell, even Lieber the 8th inning before you give it to Marmol again. And maybe Jim Hendry needs to entertain the notion of picking up the closer of a team that's fallen out of contention to serve as a new setup man to Kerry Wood.
The Cubs have a good bullpen regardless of whether or not Marmol is a part of it. But if Marmol is there and firing on all cylinders, then the Cubs bullpen is one of the best in the game.
All of that, however, is moot at least for tonight. The Cubs won the game dramatically in the 11th. Wrigley Field was shaking, all the fans were singing, and Chicago maintains the best record in baseball as we enter the All Star weekend. Oh, and Harden did in fact live up to all expectations, at least for today.
If this game against the Giants has shown us anything, it's that, like this season, it's not always going to be easy. There will be rough stretches in which even the best look mediocre, but this team has heart, and they're going to keep on winning. This team doesn't have any quit, and that is a rare thing in a Cubs squad. For me, at least, the second half can't get here fast enough.
It looks like this article is going to be a whole bunch of things scrunched into one. That's the price we pay when the Cubs inconveniently play an opening game of a series during the middle of a work day.
The San Francisco Giants used to be a good team. Point of fact, over an 8 year span they averaged 92 wins a season, they made 4 playoff appearances, and they even got to lose a World Series. I'm sure there are a lot of Cub fans out there who'd make a Faustian deal for those kinds of results - after all, when you're a Cubs fan, even a World Series defeat would be amazing - and that's pretty much what the Giants did. They went to a crossroads at midnight, they sacrificed some virgins and murmured some chants, and when the devil finally appeared he was carrying a briefcase full of 'roids. Unfortunately for the Giants, the life of the deal has ended and Karma has reversed their fortunes - San Fran's been averaging 74 wins a year these past 3 seasons, and they're on pace to win under 70 this year. You know your team is screwed when your top offensive superstar is on pace to hit about 14 homeruns and your multi-million dollar ace has lost 12 games before the All Star Break. Yep, that's Fog Town these days. They might as well rename their ballpark:
The Pitching Match-Ups
Friday, July 11th Matt Cain vs. Jason Marquis
What do you get when you mix a 23-year-old righty who's already logged 560+ career innings and had an ERA of 3.65 last year and still lost 16 with the crappiest Cubs starter? Apparently, you get a duel. We'll get to that later, so read on.
Saturday, July 12th, Dick Harden vs. Kevin Correria
Kevin Correria is the poor schmuck tapped by the Giants to pitch in what will surely be an electric game at Wrigley Field. So far this year, Correria is 1-5 with a 4.96 ERA, and in his last outing against the Cubs on July 2nd, he gave up 4 earned runs in 6.1 innings of work en route to a Cubs 6-5 victory.
He faces the already-legendary Rich Harden, a man whose immense talent is dwarfed only by his incredibly fragile arm. It's a little too early to do much more than worry and wonder about what his health will be like for the remainder of the year, but the Cubs appear to be planning a strict regimen of pitch counts, they plan on giving him 5 days rest whenever possible, and they have apparently brought in a hypnotist who will regularly put Harden under and tell him that he feels no pain and must cluck like a chicken anytime Lou curses. In other words, it's going to be a weird, interesting second half.
Sunday, July 13th Ryan Dempster vs. Tim Lincecum
It seems likely that Dempster's final start before the break will keep him out of the All Star Game in the middle of next week, although I am obviously only guessing. Regardless, this will be the toughest game of the series for the Cubs as Dempster looks to continue his home game dominance against the one good pitcher the Giants have. It's safe to say that any team in baseball would love to have Lincecum in their rotation, as the 24-year-old righty is 10-2 this season with a 2.66 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 121.2 innings of work. The last time he won this season was against the Cubs, who he held to 3 runs in 6 innings of work. Dempster has his work cut out for him.
Predictions: Well, I believe it is safe to say that the Cubs won't get swept.
That said, the Giants will make it hard on the Cubs to be swept, too. Something I said yesterday was that, in any given series, the Cubs have the best pitcher in 2 out of 3 games. As good as Dempster has been, Lincecum has been better. That said, Dempster is 10-0 at home with a 2.58 ERA, but his opponent is 7-1 on the road with a 2.23 ERA. No matter what, it's going to be a fun game to watch.
I have a very strong suspision that Harden's debut tomorrow will be followed closely by a lot of Cub fans. I also don't expect Lou to use him beyond 6 innings. I'll make no predictions, but I will say that I haven't felt this much anxiety about a start since the days of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior circa 2004 and 2005. And, with that, onto today's Game Recap.
Who knew that Jason Marquis would find himself in a bonafide pitcher's duel today? Perhaps the recent trade for Chad Gaudin - a man who has been characterized by some as the fifth best starting pitcher on the team - has motivated Marquis to step up his game a little. Regardless of why it happened, Marquis went 4 innings before surrendering a hit today. Unfortunately for him, Matt Cain was equally effective - he held the Cubs to 3 hits and 3 walks in 7 innings of work while striking out 9.
Marquis, meanwhile, who exited after 81 pitches, also allowed only 3 hits while walking 2. Now, if you're wondering why Lou seems to rarely allow Marquis to pitch past the 7th, or to throw more than 80 or 90 pitches, then look no further than the cold, hard reality of statistics. Marquis is actually a respectable pitcher, up until he throws his 75th pitch. Teams are batting .253 against him from pitches 1-75. After that, it gets ugly - teams are hitting .380 against Marquis from pitches 76 and beyond. So, being the wily veteran manager that Lou is, he knows that he has more important things to roll dice on, like pitching Marmol for the 3rd straight day, or yelling at Carlos Zambrano on the mound in front of 40,000 screaming fans. (If Lou was afraid of taking his life into his own hands, then he wouldn't be managing the Cubs.)
Luckily for the Cubs, they have a third baseman who is clutch. Aramis Ramirez has hit more than his fair share of big homeruns in his career, and he added to that talley today. In the 8th inning, Tim Walker gave up a leadoff hit to the Quiet Theriot before Little Babe Ruth sacrified him to second. The Giants then made a ridiculous mistake - they intentionally walked Derrek Lee to get to Aramis. Ramirez proceeded to make them pay with a deep homer to left, and that would be enough to make the difference.
In the 9th, Kerry Wood proved that he could allow the leadoff man to get on base and still get a save, although he still permitted a run to score. Actually, I think Wood just wanted to make things more interesting, so he allowed the first three Giant batters to get on before mowing down "The Hope of San Francisco" Aaron Rowand and inducing a flyout and groundout to end the game.
The Cubs are now 56-37 and, thanks to Milwaukee losing yet again, they now stand 4.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and 5 games in front of the Brewers. I guess Milwaukee is learning the hard way that trading for an ace still means that they have to actually, y'know, win games. You don't just get bumped up to first place on the merits of Sabathia's talent.
Oh, and one last thought. The Cubs again have the best record in baseball. Sleep well, Cub fans. Harden pitches tomorrow.
Apologies, as this will be abbreviated.
Ted Lilly had far from his best stuff today, as he was chased by the Reds after only 2 plus innings of work. His replacement pitchers were no better - every guy the Cubs turned to allowed at least 1 run scored, from Wuertz and his 4 earned runs to Gaudin and Cotts and their 1 run apiece. The Reds hit 7 homeruns tonight. I am comforted by knowing that it's a matter of time before the following image becomes a reality:
Jon Lieber also gave up 2 more runs to the Reds. Lieber has now allowed 9 earned runs against the Reds in 5 innings of work - that's a cringe-worthy ERA of 16.20. I am convinced that Lieber owes Dusty considerable gambling debts, and has become his patsy. Subtract his performances against Cincy, and Jon Lieber has an ERA of 1.81 in 39.2 innings of work.
The Cubs actually managed to score 7 runs again tonight. I recently noted that they've scored 7 runs in amost 25% of all wins. This is the second time they've scored 7 in a game they lost. Mike Fontenot hit another homer and double tonight. Somebody call up Roy Hobbs and tell him they've found out who stole Wonderboy.
Series Recap: The Cubs were pwned by Cincy today, but they had another series win and they remain 4 games in front of 2nd place Milwaukee. Chicago has one more series before the break, against the hapless Giants.
One thing I realized as I write this is that, when I look at projected starters for any given series, I always feel a warm sense of relief when I realize that the Cubs have good starters pitching. What I realized tonight is that I get that sense of relief in every series, because in any given set, the Cubs are likely to have the better pitcher in at least 2 out of 3 games. When even your weakest link is on pace to win more games than he loses, you're doing pretty good.
Current Record: 55-37
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 4 games in front of Milwaukee
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 65-5
In a game that had few surprises, the Cubs won their most recent series against the Reds tonight in resounding fashion. Carlos Zambrano delivered for the second consecutive start, going 8 innings on 103 pitches, allowing 1 hit, walking 0, striking out 5, and improving his record to 10-3 on the season.
The only blemish against the Big Moose came in the 3rd when Adam Dunn did what Adam Dunn does best - hit a homerun at Wrigley. In his career, Dunn has, er, done poorly against Zambrano, batting .226. But of his 12 hits in 53 at bats, 6 have been for homeruns. For comparrison's sake, Dunn is 9 for 37 in his career against Kerry Wood (that's a .243 clip) and 5 of his 9 hits have also been long balls. Oh, and he also owns Ryan Dempster (.364 AVG, 4 for 11). Anyway, Dunn's recurring ownage of the Cubs was not enough, as the Cubs offense gave Carlos 3 more runs than he needed in order to get tonight's win.
Tonight's primary producer for the Cubs was Aramis Ramirez, who went 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, and 2 RBI. He also made his 8th error of the season in the 1st inning, not that it hurt the Cubs as they were able to escape on a strike-'em-out throw-'em-out unlike anything we ever saw when Michael Barrett was Carlos's battery mate. Heh. That was a pune, or play on words.
Anyway, all told the Cubs got 10 hits and 3 walks tonight. The only point of offensive concern centers around Jim Edmonds, who has gone 0 for his last 11. But before you worry too much about his sudden crash return to reality, let's not forget that Aramis Ramirez was recently more than 0 for 20, and he's busted out of it these last few games.
All that said, there remains one point of concern right now - Carlos Marmol. He's been hit and miss, and in tonight's case, mostly miss. (Another pune.) After getting the first 2 outs of the 9th inning tonight, Marmol allowed a single to Jay Bruce, who then advanced to second on a wild pitch, at which point Carlos walked Keppinger and Griffey Jr. before Kerry Wood came in and induced a game-winning foul ball.
At this point, it's hard to contend that Carlos Marmol is being overused by Lou Piniella. On two nights in a row - two nights! - Marmol has come into blow-out games, as if Lou doesn't have about umpteen other relief pitchers playing kick the sunflower seeds in the bullpen. But Marmol has also now pitched in the last 4 games the Cubs played, and the July 6th game against St. Louis was also a blow-out.
Now, I know that Lou plays favorites, but at this point he has five guys in the bullpen right now with ERAs below 4, not counting his closer. I'm just saying. He has other options that just might be able to hold a four run lead for an inning. Maybe he should look into them a little more.
Cubs play for the sweep tomorrow. With Ted Lilly on the mound against Bronson Arroyo, it strikes me as being entirely possible.
Can you imagine the Milwaukee clubhouse earlier today? They must have been flying high, feeling good about themselves, exchanging high fives in the clubhouse as they pondered their inevitable playoff run. Then, the news breaks. Dick Harden is a Cub. Harden is younger than Sabathia, he's got better stuff, and I can only imagine the dejected expressions on the faces of the Brewers as they learned that the Cubs paid next-to-nothing from their current roster to get the trade done.
The Cubs, meanwhile, treated it as business as usual by making it look easy against the Reds tonight by scoring 7 runs and holding Cincy to 3.
On the pitching front, Ryan Dempster didn't have his best stuff - and, yet, he was able to hold the Reds to 2 hits in 7 innings. It was his walk total that almost killed him. The Reds did all their damage against him in the 4th, and it was all on walks as he issued passes to Griffey, Dunn, Votto, and Bako before getting out of the inning mostly unscathed en route to his 10th win of the season - which is about 7 more wins than I thought he'd have as a Cubs starter this year. Sometimes I love being wrong.
Offensively, the Cubs scored their typical 7 runs - something they've done in 14 times this season, a little more than once a week on average (and just under a quarter of their wins for the season). This was accomplished on 7 hits and 8 walks - Dusty Baker must be scratching his head as to how it happened - with 2 big hits coming from Ron Santo's "Little Babe Ruth," Mike Fontenot, including his 6th homerun and his 11th double. (Memo to Colin: if Ron Santo loves Fontenot, it's time to put the clamps down on your insistence that he sucks. Besides, as a bench player Fontenot is proving to be an asset, and he's been getting some big hits for the Cubs.) Seriously, Fontenot is a backup on pace for 12 homers and 23 doubles in just 270-or-so at bats.
Geo Soto continued to prove his qualifications as well. The starting All Star hit his 16th of the season for the Cubs.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Carlos Marmol came in to pitch in a tight situation and he came out unscathed. Against Phillips and Dunn, with 1 out and 2 men on, Marmol escaped by inducing a pop-out to third and a strikeout, in that order.
The Cubs will face one of Dusty's young arms tomorrow. It should be a fun game.
And next year, Dusty's young arms will look like this ...
Hopefully for the time being, the panic has now subsided. The Cubs entered this series against St. Louis as 1) a crappy road team, 2) a slumping team in general, and 3) a team in need of some wins in order to maintain a distance between them and the second place Cards. They managed to not only accomplish what they needed, but they have actually knocked St. Louis into third! The Cubs now exit St. Louis for Cincinnati as a team 3.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and 3.5 games ahead of the now-second place Brewers (ahead of St. Louis by percentage points).
A statistic that was brought to my attention not too long ago: the Cubs have now played in 89 games. Of their remaining 73 games, they play 16 games against the Cardinals and Brewers. 10 of those 16 games will be played on unfriendly ground, and these game represent a full 22% of all remaining games this year. I suppose we can look at that number in two different ways. Either the Cubs are in for a rocky road because they regularly play the teams closest to them, or, better yet, the Cubs have full control of their own destiny as they play their rival teams often enough to keep them out of the playoffs by merely winning.
They managed to achieve that goal today, largely because of their All Star players. The Cubs scored 7 runs off of 16 hits. All Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez went 2-3 with 3 RBI. All Star catcher Geovany Soto hit a solo homerun - his 15th of the season. All Star right fielder Kosuke Fukudome went 1 for 2 and scored a run. All Star starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano glared at the Cardinals from the dugout. It was great!
The Cubs got contributions from the non-All Stars, too. Ryan Theriot - who was in the top 3 in votes and perhaps could have been an All Star - went 3 for 5. Derrek Lee - who also was a top vote-getter in a crowded position - also went 3 for 5 with a double. Mark DeRosa - another big vote-getter - went 2 for 4 with an RBI.
On the pitching front, Sean Marshall did what he had to do. He went 6 innings on 88 pitches, allowing 6 hits, walking 1, striking out 4, and permitting only 1 run to score - a Ludwick solo shot. He was succeeded by the surprisingly effective Neal Cotts, who struck out 2 and has worked his ERA down to 2.57 on the year. Marmol followed - Marmol being another guy who was almost a sure-fire All Star a few weeks back - and he needed only 10 pitches (7 for strikes) to escape the 8th unscathed. And Bob Howry delivered a soundless, boring 9th, no bubbles no troubles.
All things considered, it was a successful series. Even Albert Pujols - who certainly wasn't showing his age by going 5-11 in the 3 games against the Cubs - wasn't enough to win it for the Cardinals.
It's exciting to note that the Cubs will have so many more important games against top rivals in the second half. I realize that so many games against the Cardinals and Brewers might evoke panic from some Cub fans, but you know what? We didn't need 7 All Star selections and about 4 near-misses to figure out that this is an outstanding team. I am confident that the Cubs will reach the playoffs, and I don't think it's going to come down to the last day of the season, or even the last week. The Cardinals will soon realize that they are built in part on the arms of converted relievers and the bat of a converted pitcher, and they will return to the median. It's the Brewers who will be a threat through August and September, and they are thankfully managed by Shemp Yost*. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling good about this team.
(*That's a photoshop waiting to happen.)
Current Record: 53-36
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 3.5 games ahead of St. Louis and Milwaukee
On Pace For: 97-65
Record needed to win 120: 67-6 (okay, fine, so it's not gonna happen, as if that's a shock to anybody but Carlos)
In all incidents, good and bad, I blame Rob.
Kosuke Fukudome, in the throws of a slump, is briefly discussed by Rob. Fukudome responds with a homerun in the first at bat of his next game.
Kerry Wood, having buckled down and saved a close one yesterday, is briefly praised by Rob. Kerry Wood forgets how to locate the strike zone. He walks the first two batters he faces, surrenders an RBI double, and then intentionally walks the bases loaded before almost escaping, and then surrendering the winning hit to the strikeout prone (HINT, HINT) Rick Ankiel.
Rob, you have a mighty power. We must find a way to harness it for the forces of good.
Today's game was definitely an example of pulling defeat from the clutches of victory. The pitching has been the story of the series thus far; Lilly and Lohse both had strong outings. Lohse was picked away at sporadically, however the Cardinals got to Lilly in the 6th for 2 runs, evening the score.
The Cubs then proceeded to reclaim the lead by a Ramirez 2-run homer in the 8th, and with everything looking secure, Kerry Wood trotted to the mound. Actually, I thought he was going to get out of it. After loading the bases with no outs, the Cubs got a force at home and a shallow pop-up. With 2 outs in the game, Rick Ankiel stepped up and mother-effed the Cubs with a 2-run hit that was officially ruled a single because, y'know, the game ended.
I blame the 'roids. But hey, here's what Rick has to look forward to over the coming years.
Hey, even the good ones aren't so good once in a while. Woody has been close-to-perfect since the start of June. These games in St. Louis are obviously amplified a little, and a win today would have just kicked ass, but a 9th inning 3-run come-from-behind defeat? Eh. It's a gut shot, but in a 162 game season in which even the best of them lose 60 or 70 times, there will be plenty of those.
Cubs and Cardinals play in the rubber game tomorrow. It's Marshall vs. Wellemeyer, look for the two teams to combine to score 15 or 20 runs.