I probably should have taken a pad and paper with me to make notes, but it would have been drenched once we left the ballpark anyway, as rain started coming down in a torrent probably around the fifth or sixth inning. Luckily, the Jays play in the domed Rogers Centre, and as Jon Miller predicted today during our second radioed discussion of the week, it rained hard. Point of fact, there's a tornado warning here in Toronto - something C.'s teacher friends think won't happen because the city stays too warm even in rain. I guess they don't know about Atlanta.
Anyway, it was perhaps the least depressing of all Cub losses I've personally experienced - partly because the Cubs are so effing good, partly because I was convinced until the last out that they were going to come back and win it, and partly because it's pretty hard to get bummed out when your seats are good. Here's a shot we took of me from our seats (apologies as many of the pictures turned out blurry - I did the best I could, but the game was indoors and there just wasn't enough light for our decent-but-amateur camera to work with):
Fun stories from the game - Kosuke Fukudome warms up with his translator. C. asked me, "why does he play catch with the translator and not the other players?" Before I could give her an answer, she mused, "it must be because he doesn't know how to play catch in English."
Later, I pointed out to her that Fukudome uses a bat made of a different color from the other players. She said "Oh! I bet it's a bamboo bat, because they would never break." I tried to gently assure her that it wasn't bamboo, but she insisted that if he did in fact use a bamboo bat, then he'd become her second favorite player behind Derrek Lee, so I gave in. In a later at bat, she said, "There he is again with his bat made of bamboo ... which has sushi inside of it. It's very smelly." The woman I love, folks.
Here's Michael Hoffpauir "warming up" with the team trainer. They were later seen at a leather bar.
I'm not saying ... I'm just saying.
Anyway, the Cubs failed to take advantage of numerous opportunities tonight, particularly their first inning romp of A.J. Burnett, who couldn't have located the strike zone with a compass and a telescope. Amusingly, a work colleague and super fan mused earlier today that Burnett's had trouble in the first three innings, and if the Cubs were able to get to him, then they'd have a good chance of winning. He was dead on. It didn't even help that the Jays were wearing their ridiculous powder-blue jerseys.
The Cubs rang Burnett up for something like 35 pitches in the first inning alone. They juiced the bases, they drew walks, and then Geo Soto hit a Towering Fly to Nowhere, resulting in bupkis. But I wasn't worried.
Gallagher, meanwhile, did not look at all dominating, but he didn't pitch too badly - except for the 3rd, where he came unglued. After allowing a leadoff double, he served up a pitch to a man who is not only a) nearly twice his age, but b) physically resembles a hard laborer who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with his child bride and three children, but manges to scratch by because he works as a garbage man during the day and a factory janitor at night. Yep, I'm talking about Matt Stairs, folks:
Maybe it's no big surprise, considering that he was facing this kid:
I think Gallagher needs to take a lesson from Burnett, whose team photo looks badass. Even Neifi looked more menacing than Golly Gee Gallagher, who is a photoshopped lollipop away from looking like a total jackass.
After Matt Stairs defied age and conventional wisdom with a deep homerun to right field, the detested Scott Rolen (a "Recardinal" according to C.), followed up with the lamest homerun I've seen in a long while. It managed to pass over the outfield wall, barely, but the point was that the Jays had just hit back-to-back homeruns and Gallagher was looking even worse than his team picture - there wasn't even an out yet in the inning.
After a chat with Larry, our Irish rookie manned up and got out of the inning, and the Cubs would score a run-in-response in the bottom of the 3rd after Jim Edmonds barely missed a two-run homer to deep right field. Being a loyal reader of the Desipio brand, I cheered Edmonds on by calling him "Lassie," which resulted in people turning their heads to me and shooting me dirty looks. I'm sure they didn't get the reference, but they didn't appreciate it regardless. Perhaps I should feel happy that nobody appeared to hear me when I cheered on "Fukakke."
Here's Gallagher trying to pick-off a Jay, resulting in asmattering of boos from the home crowd. No offense to Jays fans, but they suck. They were showing highlights of Jays World Champions on the JumboTron, and that barely evoked a response. Also, if you look closely, you can clearly make out the blurred outline of a UFO. Sorry about the picture quality, folks.
The Cubs next ideal opportunity to score droves of runs occurred in the 6th, when Fukudome led off with a single, Soto drew a walk that chased Burnett, and Edmonds loaded the bases with a single that should have scored Fooky. In fact, this was the Major Point of Confusion at the game. One second, Edmonds had driven in our hero from Japan. The next thing we know, Lou Piniella is out of the dugout, Fukudome looks confused back on third, and I'm scrambling for the cell phone to call Jason, who I assume is watching the game from home in Chicago.
Leah answers Jason's cell phone and we proceed to have a confused shouting match which consisted of Leah not understanding me (as the Rogers Centre sound system is loud and annoying), telling me that I must have the wrong number, and eventually barely comprehending that I have the right number and am asking for Jason - altho' she still couldn't identify that it was me. She then handed me off to Jason, where we continued the shouting match of confusion - it took me about 45 seconds to get Jason to understand my name when I spoke it. At that stage, after the Toronto loudspeakers have ceased with their infernal racket, I ask Jason, "what the hell happened with Fukudome?" He responded by saying "...I don't know! We were watching the game, but we weren't following that closely. We thought he scored but he didn't!" I thanked him and closed my $50 cell phone, which clearly delivers all the sound quality and clarity that $50 can buy - dog piss, really.
Anyway, by that point Eric Patterson had briefly shed himself of his shell of sucktitude (say that five times fast) and driven in Kosuke, but The Riot had followed with an inning-ending and rally-killing double play. Had Fukudome's run counted, then Patterson may have driven in Soto, and the Cubs may have been tied. But I still wasn't worried, and I wouldn't learn until much later that there had been a case of umpire's interference where the ball had been deflected by the second base ump. I speculated at the time that it may have been player interference of some kind which sent Fukudome back to third, but that would have normally resulted in an out somewhere, while there'd been none. Regardless, the Cubs only scored one run in the inning rather than two or more.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, Gallagher only lasted five before getting chased by a leadoff single by Rod Barajas in the 6th. (C. and I spent ten minutes debating Rod's full first name ... was it Roderick? Rodney? Rodrigo? "Yeah, he's an Irish Latino guy named Roderick Barajas," said C., who cut me deep with the putdown of my favorite suggestion.) Lou - who apparently loves his beer, according to the Jays fan sitting next to us - turned to Neal Cotts for one batter before calling on Michael Wuertz. When I told C. that Cotts makes 10 times her salary to get one out a night, she about crapped her pants. I think she wants to quit the teaching profession in order to become a Major League pitcher. Wuertz almost started a fire after David Eckstein* singled to left, but the Hoff gunned down Barajas. It's not that Hoffpauir has a tremendous arm; far from it, Barajas, a catcher, just happens to be slow as an iceberg on the basepaths.
(*They're making a movie about him. It'll be called The Tiny Jew with the Big Heart and Hugh Grant has been tapped for the leading role. I understand they will shoot him in skewed perspective to make him appear short enough for the part.)
From the 7th on, the bullpens battled each other to a draw - which was bad news for the Cubs, who were still trailing because of the 3rd inning ineffectiveness of Gallagher. Wolf, Camp, Carlson, Downs, and closer BJ Ryan pretty well clamped things down and the Cubs ended the game as sad participants.
I truly didn't feel too bummed out about it. It was a good game, there were some very exciting moments, and while the Cubs lost I couldn't help but notice how the Phillies demolished the Cardinals 20-2 tonight. It kind of softened the blow.
Final conclusions: If you're with me still, then I thank you. If you quit reading during my third C. story, then you won't catch me calling you a douchebag. That said, I wasn't overly fond of tonight's lineup - Hoffpauir batting 3rd? Patterson batting anywhere? - nor did I love some of Lou's in-game decisions. I realize that it's a symptom of having too many pitchers, but when he yanked Soto and replaced him on the basepaths with Jason Marquis while Henry Blanco pinch-hit for Jim Edmonds, I was kind befuddled. I get that he was favoring the righty-lefty matchup as Scott Downs was pitching for Toronto, but was there really a good reason to yank Soto on the basepaths for Marquis? Has de Suck won some sprints that I haven't heard of? Additionally, Reed Johnson should have been starting from the get-go, and Patterson should have been on the bench. That would have enabled Lou to pinch run with E.Pat*, which would have taken the greatest advantage of his ... erm, of his "talents." But I'm just being a Monday morning quarterback, and I'll leave it at this: I've seen the Cubs lose plenty of times, and I have never felt less frustrated with the team. It's hard to be angry when they are doing so well overall. Tomorrow won't be any easier as Marquis will be facing Halladay, but at least Toronto's pen will be spent a little. Hey, you never know, maybe the Cubs will chase Halladay from the game early.
Oh, one last point I almost forgot to make - for covering the Cubs on a blog, I sure as hell miss some details. I don't think I'd noticed before tonight that Ramirez is playing with his left hand bandaged:
And did anybody notice the PETA people protesting our favorite cock fighter? No? I'm shocked to hear that. Truly.
(*C. said, "E-Pat. E-Pat run. E-Pat strike out swinging again and again. E-Pat suck. Hint - See Pat? E-Pat? get it?)
Although I wrote about a hundred letters of protest, the Cubs ignored my pleas and pitched Carlos Zambrano today against Tim Hudson. The move didn't backfire, per se, as the Big Moosey went 7 strong innings, but he failed to get the decision due to Chicago's inability to score runs without Alfonso Soriano. (Just kidding, we all know the Cubs can score runs without Soriano. No, seriously, I'm not being sarcastic. You're just reading it that way for no reason. Knock it off, the Cubs are good. Seriously.)
Actually, the tale of the tape revolves around the continued offensive contribution of the Willie Mays of our generation, Jim Edmonds. (Yes, now I'm being sarcastic.) Edmonds scored the first Cubs run of the game in the 7th after sacrificing a fly ball in order for A-Ram to score from third, and he tied the game Moy Clutch style in the 9th with a massive, Waveland-busting homerun that actually was probably much shorter than that, but I was stuck at work so I didn't see it.
The Cubs pitching then kept the team in it until the 11th, when Reed Johnson took a clutch hit pitch to his body, allowing Aramis Ramirez to score the winning run. That's two times Ramirez scored this game off of 0 hits. It's probably not as rare as you might think, but it's still got to be a little unusual.
The bullpen was outstanding, relieving Zambrano in the 8th and pitching 4 scoreless innings in which they allowed 3 hits, 3 walks, and struck out 9 batters. Not bad. Kerry Wood in particular was outstanding - he went 2 innings, struck out 4, and secured his 3rd victory of the year while knocking his ERA down to 2.48.
Series Recap: This has to be the costliest sweep in recent memory. The Cubs beat the Braves in only the manner an invincible home team can pound on a visiting squad totally unable to win outside their home park, and yet all we'll remember a month from now will be that Alfonso Soriano suffered a crushing injury - no pun intended - in this series.
And yet, as the Cubs begin their toughest stretch of the season without an offensive impact at leadoff, they have now won 4 games in a row, they are 19 games over .500, and they have the best record in all of baseball. As they prepare for this rough stretch, I am comforted by this thought - they're a damned good team even without Soriano, and if they are still in first place on July 8th, then they will have to be the hands-down favorite to win not only the division, but the league.
Current Record: 43-24
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 3 games ahead of St. Louis
On Pace For: 104-58
Record needed to win 120: 77-18
Cubs fans all went a little crazy last night, as Alfonso Soriano suffered a broken hand in the 2nd inning. Soriano broke the fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand. Sound familiar? It might - something very similar to that happened in the early Spring of 1993 to a Cubs superstar. The only difference is that Ryne Sandberg broke the fifth metacarpal.
Now, if Soriano's injury projects the same as Sandberg's - and Ryno missed about six weeks - then, when he returns, he will have lost some grip on his bat and some power from his stroke. Ryno only hit 9 homeruns in 1993. But, since I'm trying to look on the bright side here, I'll just say that when the Fonz returns, he'll have motivation to change his game a little and play more like a true leadoff - less power, more speed. But, anyway, enough about the depressing injury to a Cubs star. Let's talk about the positives.
The Cubs offense continues to pour it on - and make no mistake, this is not an offense dependant on any one player who is now out for 6 weeks due to a broken hand. Chicago scored 7 runs across the first 3 innings last night, due in part to another Fukudome 3 run homerun, a Theriot 2 run double, and an Edmonds 2 run single. The Soriano-less Cubs drew 4 walks, knocked 10 hits, and chased emergency Atlanta starter (and asshole) Jeff Bennett in the 2nd.
But perhaps the true positive of last night is the performance of Ryan Dempster. On a team with an overtaxed bullpen - despite there being 13 pitchers* - the performance Dempster gave last night was huge. He went the distance on 119 pitches, striking out 11 and walking none. Not bad. Carlos is one meltdown away from temporarily losing his Ace status to Clownsevelt.
(*And unlike the days when Dusty Baker had 12 or 13 pitchers, Lou Piniella actually uses them all. Back in Dusty's day, he'd have the 7th reliever sitting out there in the bullpen for 8 days at a time before he'd remember to call the guy in to pitch games.)
Even Chipper "Hayseed" Jones only knocked one hit against Dempster. (Cue photoshop):
Things to Come
Lastly, let's talk a little more about what's going to happen over the next six weeks. Colin has already done us well with an in-depth look at the Replacement Level Players who'll be stepping in for Soriano in the immediate future. Meanwhile, all those Cub fans who I mentioned as having gone crazy have begun tossing out all sorts of names to replace the Fonz on the short term. Those names include ...
Sammy Sosa (but mostly only in jest) - Old, still able to produce, hasn't been a clubhouse cancer since '04, but entirely wrong for this Cubs team
Barry Bonds - Old, still wants to play, might be willing to come back although his ego may demand a salary larger than the Cubs should be willing to pay. And, what should they be willing to pay, you ask? Zero. Screw Bonds, he's an even bigger cancer than Sosa.
Kenny Lofton - Old, still wants to play, bats leadoff. Actually, Lofton is my favorite choice. If he has anything left in the tank, then he might be ideal as he would easily slide into the leadoff position and steal some bases. I'll be advocating heavily for Lofton, especially if Hoff/Murton/Whomever fails to produce and the Cubs begin to spiral into mediocrity.
And will the Cubs spiral into mediocrity without their big bat? To be honest, I really don't think so. This is a far more complete team than Cubs of the past, and while Alfonso's bat will surely be missed, the Cubs have won plenty of games where he did nothing for them. They may lose a handful of close games without him, but they should still win.
At least, that's the way I'm going to look at it. Feel free to mock me from your foothold in reality, but I assure you I'm much happier over here in fantasyland.
Although they worked hard to make it interesting, the Cubs sure didn't look like they were sweating it tonight as they beat the Braves as if Atlanta owed them money.
I'd hardly say that they are out of their slumps, but both D.Lee and G.Soto contributed hugely to the Cubs tonight, as they were responsible for 5 Chicago runs tonight. Derrek accomplished his 2 RBI tally through a solo homerun in the 3rd and a sacrifice fly in the 8th, and Geo Soto managed 2 hits including the 3-run shot that sealed the deal for the Cubs in the 8th after Atlanta had come within 1 run.
The Rage v. Age Duel proved to be less a duel and more a demolition of Glavine. Old Tom couldn't get out of the 4th inning, having strained his elbow after surrendering 6 hits and 4 walks to 0 strikeouts. Ted Lilly, meanwhile, started off rocky by allowing a three-run homer in the 1st, but he then proceeded to buckle down and pitch into the 7th, leaving the game after 6.2 innings and 98 pitches. He struck out 8, he walked 3, and the Cubs looked to be comfortably in the lead until Bob Howry did his best to give Atlanta another shot at victory, as Atlanta was losing 6-5 in the 8th inning.
Thankfully, Kerry Wood avoided making yet another appearance after the Cubs exploded for 4 more runs in the bottom of the 8th, allowing Lou to turn to Jon Lieber in the 9th.
The Cubs are always capable of scoring a lot of runs, but after a series of ineptitude in Los Angeles, I was particularly hopeful that they would be able to score big against the Braves tonight. They were able to deliver, and not even Bobby "Crypt-keeper" Cox could wrangle a win for the Braves tonight. Yes folks, that's a cheesy lead-up to a photoshop:
One other note: based on Byron's poll, most of us would be satisfied this month should the Cubs win 14 games all month long. At this point, to accomplish that feat, Chicago will need to go 8-10 the rest of the month. In fact, I'm confident in saying that if the Cubs go 8-10 the rest of this month, at this stage, Cub fans will be singing Doom and Gloom.
On the off chance it happens, let's just try to maintain some perspective, 'kay? 14 wins in this, the toughest month on the schedule, would not be the end of the world. Far from it, 14 wins in June would probably be enough to extend the team's lead on the Deadbirds. I'm just saying.
If you told me four days ago that the Cubs would score 8 runs in 3 games and still manage to a) not only win their series against but b) actually sweep the Los Angeles Dodgers, I would have waited until you left your home in order to sneak in and loot your clearly awesome drug supply. And yet, you would have been right.
The Cubs played some fantastic baseball this weekend. They didn't dominate the Dodgers. In fact, they made a handful of boneheaded defensive gaffes in pretty much every game while mostly leaving their bats at home. But what the Cubs did right sounds simple, even though it's not - they held the Dodgers to 3 runs and they got the big hits when they needed them.
Tonight, Carlos Zambrano failed to win, but he did keep his foot to LA's throat for 8 innings. He also tossed a whopping, Kerry Woodesque 130 pitches. Thankfully, Zambrano's arm is indestructible and his shoulder is too afraid of Carlos to suffer any kind of serious injury. I think that Carlos could break his pitching hand and he'd still march out there and battle through five or six innings of work. Carlos Zambrano is just that tough. An arm injury? No problem. A fleet of Chinese tanks? Stand back.
More important than Zambrano's workhorse appearance was the hitting of Alfonso Soriano. I know he gets a rap about being selfish, but I will reiterate that he isn't Sammy Sosa. Imagine if Sammy had found himself in the Fonz's situation in the 10th inning. The Cubs had a runner on in the pesky Mike Fontenot. Had Sosa been up to bat, we would have seen the familiar sight of three massive, gust-inducing hacks, none of which would have come anywhere near the location of the baseball.
Alfonso, meanwhile, did not hack away at the ball. Instead, he did something I would have paid good money to see from Sosa in September of 2004 - he took a short swing and hit a single, driving in the winning run in the 10th.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that Soriano would never have been in that position had the Cubs not battled in the 9th to score their first run of the game? Against a guy with a sub-2 ERA? Did I mention that? Just checking.
Series Recap: All is well in Wrigleyville tonight. The Cubs are now 11 games over .500 and they play the horrible Rockies. During my conversation with Jon Miller earlier today, he pointed out that, while the Cardinals and Astros were playing well, they've already played about twice as many games as the Cubs against the horrid NL West, also known as The Worst Division in Baseball. The Cubs still have a lot of games against some easy teams; Colorado is just one of them.
As far as the Dodgers go, I for one am happy to thank any team that can hold the Cubs to 8 runs over 3 games and still get swept. Perhaps they would have had better fortune had Nomar played ...
Current Record: 32-21
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 1.5 games ahead of St. Louis
On Pace For: 98-64
Record needed to win 120: 88-21
For the second straight day, the Cubs won a low-scoring affair against the mediocre Dodgers. However, this time they did it not with the long ball but with a few timely hits after a Dodger defensive miscue. The Cubs offense combined for an impressive 11 hits - with every regular but Fontenot and the Craptacular Jim Edmonds getting at least a hit - and the pitching delivered another solid performance.
I can't say enough good things about Sean Gallagher. He remains far from dominant, but maybe it's a mistake to expect any 22-year-old pitcher to "dominate" the opposition. Guys like Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and, yes, Mark Prior are hard to come by. However, while Gallagher didn't toy with the Dodgers as if they were his play things, he did pitch 7 strong innings, he allowed only 4 hits, 2 walks, and he struck out 3. He was followed by Carlos Marmol, who did his best Kerry Wood impression (1 hit, 2 walks, 1 strikeout), and by Kerry Wood in the 9th, who did a solid Marmol (1 hit, 0 walks, 2 k's).
Defensively, the Cubs had 2 more errors tonight - one from Soriano, whose throwing error in the 4th contributed to LA's single run scored. Alfonso has got to be feeling the pressure, as he is being heckled by the fans in the stands and derided by Bob Brenley. In a six month season, even the greats can have periods in which they look like utter tools, and while Soriano has far too many flaws to be called a "great," his positives will eventually outweigh his negatives. This is a guy who played shaky defense at second base for the Yankees. He should be able to handle any amount of crap that the Cubs fans lob his way.
Anyway, the Cubs will be playing for a sweep tomorrow - something which should be well within reach, as the Big Moose will be stepping to the mound.
Lastly, I want to spend a little bit of time addressing another hot topic - the incredibly crappy play of Jim Edmonds. Can you believe he's only been on the team for about a week and a half? In his time with the Cubs, Edmonds has managed to go 3 for 24. I will grant you that he had one tremendous defensive play, but c'mon, 3 for 24? It's about time for Jim Hendry to torpedo the Jim Edmonds experience, as Lassie has proven to be a Cub killer regardless of whether or not he wears Cardinals red or Cubs blue.
Send him home, already.