Randy Wells churned out another quality start by allowing an earned run on six hits and two walks over six innings. It looked like things were about to fall apart in the fifth inning when Wells loaded the bases with two outs and subsequently allowed a run-scoring infield single to Luis Castillo. However, Wells was able to strike out an over-eager David Wright on three pitches to end the threat and the inning.
Lou went to the bullpen in the seventh inning, and like a match to a powderkeg, the fireworks promptly began for the Mets. Feeling left out from the rest of the pen, the previously unscored upon James Russell served up a home run to Angel Pagan immediately after beaning Jose Reyes on an 0-2 pitch. And the fun didn't stop there. With two outs in the inning, Lou brought in implosion specialist Jeff Samardzija who promptly issued a walk to David Wright and a double off of the wall by Jason Bay. Even Sean Marshall got in on the fun in the seventh by allowing an RBI single to future Hall of Famer Ike Davis (he has a career batting average of .500!) and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch to the next batter.
There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about the bullpen woes of the Cubs. It's thirteen games into the season and the roles in the bullpen are about as defined as they were coming into Spring Training. The Shark looks like he has no idea where his release point is at and really needs to be put on the first bus down to Iowa to get some substantive instruction (like: how a sinker is supposed to sink). With Andrew Cashner dominating hitters in Double A (3 GS, 17.1 IP, 5 ER, 25:4 K:BB) and the instability of the club's MLB bullpen, I think it is safe to begin the "Cashner Watch" (in spite of this) He was a very good closer for TCU, and I believe he could be useful at the major league level.
Then again it's not like the offense helped Wells out tonight, either. On a positive note, the new leadoff hitter Marlon Byrd went 3-4 with an RBI and the oft-criticized Alfonso Soriano went 2-4 (albiet, with a double that could have been streched out if he hustled). Byrd's comfort in the leadoff spot may have something to do with the fact that he spent a fair amount of time in that spot during his time with the Phils. It seems that some Chicago sports personalities are against the move, as they believe Byrd is more valuable in a lower lineup spot because he is 'clutch'. Considering the Cubs could use any spark possible at the top of the lineup, I think Byrd did a fine job of working the count and setting the table; both qualities I attribute to a successful leadoff hitter.
Aside from Byrd and Soriano, all the other offensive statistics are appaling. The team went 1-10 with runners in scoring position. The 3-4-5 hitters went 1-11 with two walks. Aramis Ramirez continued his frigid start to the season with an 0-4 showing which dropped his average to .157. Even more troubling, Ramirez only saw a total of 14 pitches in his 4 AB's. It seems like Ramirez is pressing right now and the Cubs as a whole are suffering because of it.
On a positive note, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly allowed only one run over seven innings in his final rehab start for Class A Peoria. He threw 88 pitches in the outing and stuck out nine batters while only walking one. Theodore, well aware of the offensive struggles in his absence and always the consummate team player, even attempted a stolen base. It looks like he will make his first start with the big club on Sunday against the Brewers.
Tomorrow the Cubs look to even the series against right hander Mike Pelfrey. Lou may not trot out the new look lineup tomorrow, but hopefully the end result will be different.
He left Ryan Dempster in for too long. The man ended up throwing 120 pitches, which is crazy. Yes, many of our relievers have done poorly thus far, but there are at least two guys that we've been able to trust so far (until today I suppose) in Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.
Why didn't Lou yank Demp after seven, let Marshall take the eighth inning, and give Marmol a save situation in the ninth? I haven't ever talked to any of them personally, but I'm pretty sure pitchers prefer having a routine. Give each guy a job, and let him do it. Instead, Piniella rode Ryan Dempster too long, gave Marmol a tough spot to squeeze out of, forced him to try to get a four out save (didn't Carrie Muskat just write about how bad an idea that was?) and then put Marshall out there in the tenth.
Poorly managed, by my count. Yes, Theriot probably could have helped by getting on base at least once, and the 3-4-5 hitters' combined 1-for-13 doesn't help either. But I wonder how the game might've played out if Marshall got to pitch the eighth with the bases empty, and Marmol was brought out with a one-run lead in the ninth inning.
But what do I know?
When an offense scores five runs, that team really should win the game; and when a pitching staff allows five runs in a game, it's hard to blame the bats if the team does end up losing.
On the flip side, it's hard to really get on anybody when pitchers allow three or fewer runs over nine innings. I guess there could be a blown save in a game like that, but still, if your offense only scores one or two runs, the game is kinda on them, I think. And yes, of course there are exceptions in both cases, and the best teams will find ways to win under any circumstances.
But then you have a game like today's decided by a score of 4-3. Starter Tom Gorzelanny certainly didn't shut the Astros down during the three innings he pitched, but two runs on three singles and a bunch of ground outs... that's rough. And don't blame Font for not turning the double play there: if you watched, you saw Pence make a good hard slide into second to break it up. Or maybe you want to blame Fontenot, in which case I can't stop you.
None of the relief pitchers were hammered either. Jeff Gray made one mistake to JR Towles that really almost didn't make it out of the park (keyword almost), and Justin Berg got burned by a floater into center which scored a runner from second. Again: neither was really bad. Furthermore, James Russell and his 0.00 ERA, and Sean Marshall -- who struck out the side in the top of the ninth -- were both pretty great.
On offense, the Cubs managed nine hits, four of which were doubles (one each from Soto, Lee, Ramirez and Soriano). The problem may have been patience, however -- no one managed to draw a walk. Although, honestly, Oswalt was totally on today, so perhaps there weren't any bad pitches to take.
I guess what I'm saying is, it's hard to blame any one or three people for this loss. It was a close game that the Cubs ended up on the wrong side of in the end. I suppose game balls go to Marshall, for his three ninth inning strikeouts, and Soto and Soriano for each going 2-for-4 with a double (although we might take the ball back from Fonz for that stupid looking error in the top of the fifth).
But, all in all, whatever. Indeed, over the course of a season you do win some, and you also lose some.
Tomorrow, we go for the series win. Go Cubbos.
Today's game was one that could very easily have ended with a Cub loss rather than a win. It all came down to the performance of one player, a dude that has managed to steal headlines from across the Cubs' blogsphere and Twitterverse.
It looked as though Alfonso Soriano might be due for another turdtastic performance today after his at-bat in the bottom of the 2nd inning in which he struck out on three pitches, the latter two of which were both low-and-away breaking balls thrown well out of the zone. But he'd do his best to make up for it in his next at-bat, singling to left to lead off the bottom of the 5th inning. Unfortunately, Carlos "Why Yes I Have An RBI To My Name Thank You Very Much" Silva sucks at bunting, so the effort went for naught on a 1-5-3 double play (seriously -- not good on the bunting effort, Silva).
But the Fonz was not to be held down, no sir! In the bottom of the 7th, he got hold of a bad pitch from Felipe Paulino (honestly, look at the at-bat on Gameday, that thing was dead center) and drove Marlon Byrd home from second with a double to tie the game.
What happened next, however, was a play that was THISCLOSE from making Soriano the goat for today's game, despite the two hits he had already collected.
After Mike Fontenot walked, Koyie Hill was given the sign to bunt. And on the first pitch of the at-bat, Soriano took off. Unfortunately, Hill had taken the pitch, and Soriano appeared caught.
But the Fonz kept running. The ball went to second, and then to third... but the throw was high. And just like that, Soriano slid in safely, and was saved from another round of what likely would have been some seriously intense booing. More importantly, the Cubs were saved from a devastating out that may have completely shifted the game's momentum into the Astros' favor. Might the Cubs have won anyway? Perhaps. But the win certainly would have been a lot tougher to pull off.
Later in the 7th, a Theriot bunt, Kosuke sac fly and D-Lee home run would bust the game wide open, securing the Cubs a win. With that, you can book it, folks: Carlos Silva has now pitched 13 innings and has a 1-0 record, to go along with a scintillating 0.69 ERA.
If ESPN carries any highlights from today's game, they'll probably be clips of Derrek's three-run jack, and the error attributed to Byrd in the top of the 4th inning that eventually allowed two Astros to score. But make no mistake: today's game was all about Soriano. And thanks to a little -- or you might even call it a lot -- of luck, the Cubs won.
I forget the inning, and I forget who it was that said it, but at some point in the game one of our esteemed radio hosts pointed out that when these two teams meet, they often compete in a way that feels like they're scratching and clawing at each other.
I felt that was an apt description. Check the box score: one run top one, one run bottom one; one run top four, two runs bottom four; one run top six, one run bottom six; and so on and so forth. The game had the back-and-forth of a quality boxing match.
For the Cubs, Scratcher and Clawer Number One from today's game was Carlos Zambrano. He didn't have his best stuff, walking a batter in each of the first three innings, as well as giving up a double and a homer over the same stretch. And usually, walks plus extra base hits equals early exit.
But Z fought back, eventually throwing 123 pitches (!) over the course of five stressful innings. And when he finally reached the dugout, instead of assaulting the Gatorade, he drank it, presumably to ward off some cramps he may have been feeling (and who knows how early in the game they started).
(Indeed, Kurt has previously posed a question that goes something like: if I told you a Cub was continuing to pitch after having been stabbed in the shoulder with a knife, which Cub do you think that would be? Despite his occasional display of a lack of maturity, the young man is our toughest player.)
Opposing starter Jeff Suppan was also pulled after five innings, with the game tied at four, making this one a battle of the bullpens -- a battle that we would eventually lose, once Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow worked their magic on the scoreboard.
Let me throw a hypothetical situation out there for you: suppose our entire pitching staff, from top to bottom, from Peoria to Chicago, were healthy. Which twelve dudes would you want on the major league team?
There are several locks: Z, Demp, Lilly, and Wells in the rotation, and Marshall and Marmol in the 'pen. Beyond that, give me Tom Gorzelanny in the fifth spot, Carlos Silva in long relief (I don't see this guy throwing much more than 90 pitches in a game ever), Berg and Russell specializing against guys with the same handedness as they have, and Gray and Caridad doing their best to fend off Cashner from taking a spot on the roster.
Maybe that's an obvious discussion, but I hope you realize the consequences of it: Jim Hendry absolutely wasted $8 million on Aaron Mi -- I mean, John Grabow this offseason.
And a few thoughts on the offense today: kudos to Geovany Soto for getting on base three times, kudos to Tyler Colvin for coming up with two hits and scoring twice, and major kudos to Marlon Byrd for knocking the cover off the ball in the third inning. And how about Alfonso Soriano actually drawing a walk in one pinch hitting at-bat? Crazy, man.
Regardless, the series is won. Yippee skippe. Bring on the hapless Astros, who thankfully managed to win a game today. Lord knows a team like that can't possibly manage to win two in a row.
Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.
Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.
Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.
Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!
Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.
Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.
Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.
Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.
Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!
Just when we think that the offense is a shell, the Cubs delivered an epic opening day victory against Doug Davis and the Brewers. But before we get too excited -- it was Doug Davis. And the Brewers. Just sayin'.
Offensively, the Cubs took the game thanks in part to a solid, all-around thrashing of Doug. Ryan Theriot finished the day with a hit and a walk. Marlon Byrd went 3 for 5, raising his AVG to .208. Aramis Ramirez delivered his second homerun of the season in the 4th, a 2 run shot that more-than put the game out of reach. Even Alfonso Soriano collected 2 hits behind Xavier Nady, who went 2 for 4 with a 2 out, 3-run homerun in the 3rd inning.
All told, the Cubs collected 13 hits en route to a massacre at Wrigley. Not that Ryan Dempster didn't try his best to cost the team the game.
Clownsevelt managed to pitch into the 7th, but he gave up 5 earned runs and walked 4 in the process. He was mostly effective at maintaining control of the Brewers, except for when Ryan Braun faced him. Braun was responsible for 4 of Milwaukee's 5 runs. Dempster Pwnage. He was effectively relieved by James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, and Carlos Marmol (yes, that's right, Jeffy Spellcheck himself pitched and pitched well).
The Cubs have tomorrow off before resuming play against the Brewers on Wednesday. Look on the bright side, Goat Readers, Chicago is now 3-4.
In the top of the first, the first three Cub hitters reached base, giving our so-called "RBI guys" a golden opportunity to stake the team to an early lead.
Mistakes #1 and #2 - Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd each fail to plate the runner from third with less than two outs.
I'm not expecting a grand slam every time we load the bases. Heck, I understand that even the best hitters fail to get a hit 60% of the time. But when you're as talented a hitter as Aramis Ramirez, facing a rookie pitcher in Mike Leake, you've got to find a way to get the ball to the outfield and score your leadoff man from first. The exact same notion applies for Marlon Byrd, as well -- woulda loved a base hit, but failing to generate a productive out is unprofessional, and inexcusable.
We'll talk more later about the collective failings of the middle-of-the-order guys eventually, but for now let's fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 1-0 and Tom Gorzelanny having just allowed a couple of base runners.
Mistake #3 - Alfonso Soriano fails to catch a fly ball to left field with runners on first and second.
What makes the error worse is that I know a guy who could've made that play, so if Soriano's gonna strikeout twice a game and fail to register a hit anyway, why not put Colvin in left after the sixth inning of every close game? Maybe we'll see that happen soon. Fortunately, after Miguel Cairo got lucky and knocked in one run, this happened:
Mistake #4 - Dusty Baker decides to put in Jay Bruce to pinch hit against lefty Sean Marshall.
Okay, not a Cub mistake. But had to be noted. In Dusty we trusty!!!!!
Marshall would take advantage, striking Bruce out. He'd then strike out the right-handed Drew Stubbs, making an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for his being named the primary set-up man in the Cub bullpen.
To the bottom of the eighth we go. After allowing a couple of singles,
Mistake #5 - John Grabow issues a four pitch walk to Scott Rolen.
A walk would be one thing (admittedly still the type of thing you would call "bad"). But you don't even have one good strike in you to throw to a .235-hitting old guy? Furthermore, there are good balls and there are bad balls (that's what she said), and nothing John Grabow threw was anywhere close to the plate. As a result, Grabow himself made an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for being removed from high leverage situations.
This next one is debatable, but I'm gonna go ahead and give it its own bold-faced numerical entry:
Mistake #6 - With the bases loaded and one out, Lou Piniella brings in the young Esmailin Caridad to try to get two outs.
Yes, Grabow had given some indication that he had lost control of the strike zone in the previous at-bat. But I'd still consider him to have a better handle on throwing strikes than the kid who just got up from the bench in the 'pen. I say, Grabow created the mess, why not give him a chance to get out of it? And with Jeff Samardzija warming up in the 'pen at the time, it wasn't like Lou was expecting to come out of the inning with a tie anyway.
As it happened, Caridad walked a run in, and then allowed a sacrifice fly, giving the Reds their second and third runs on the day. The rest was history.
Any lessons learned? I suppose so.
First,I'd advocate to have Soriano pulled after the sixth inning of any low-scoring, close game. Let him swing away early on, but if the pitchers are on Soriano is a sure out anyway (this just in: the Fonz swings at misses at low-and-away breaking pitches that are outside the zone).
Second: I realize we're only six games in, but I can already tell you who I want pitching in the eighth inning when the Cubs have a lead of three or fewer runs. Hint: his name starts with S and rhymes with Sean. Maybe he's at a disadvantage against righties, but I can tell you that as of today, Caridad and Grabow aren't ready to set Marmol up.
(Furthermore, I'm convinced that Grabow never will be. I'm sure he'll be able to get plenty of outs in low-leverage situations this season, but when he needs a strikeout late in the game I just don't know what pitch he has in his repertoire that he can throw to get it.)
And finally, for the final lesson of the weekend, let's give credit where it's due. The Cubs' starting pitching has been pretty darn solid so far, including today's K-tastic outing from Tom Gorzelanny. Seven strikeouts, two walks, four hits -- control like that is going to keep runs off the board, as it did today, with zero earned runs allowed by Gorzo.
It's impossible to justify ignoring Z's opening day masterpiece, but suppose you could do so, just for fun, and you'd have five real good performances from five different starters. So that's nice.
The Cubs head home with a 2-4 record to host the Milwaukee Brewers. Let's hope the fourth, fifth, and sixth hitters (hitting .130, .105, and .143 respectively) get going, and that Marshall gets a chance to set Marmol up in our next close game.
The Cubs took advantage (but not enough of an advantage) of Reds starter Homer Bailey, getting one run on a A-Ram sac fly in the 1st, followed by another in the 3rd from Xavier Nady's 1st RBI in a Cubs uniform. The former place holder for the Great Micah Hoffpauir, Derrek Lee helped continue the misery for Bailey with an RBI single, driving in the current place holder for the Great Starlin Castro, Ryan Theriot.
Look, we all now what happened in the 8th as it's now uncomfortably familiar, like a Ronnie Woo-Woo sex video (Don't judge). I know it may be early to look for trends, but let's look at one that has surfaced: Through 4 games, Cubs relievers have given up the following in the 8th inning: 6 walks, 6 hits (2 of which were soul crushing home runs) and 8 runs. If the Cubs have any desire to play in October, the 8th inning bleeding needs to stop soon.
After Esmailin Caridad helped Drew Stubbs become a Cincinnati hero for one day, in the 9th many Cubs fans were left to wonder "What if?" after a close play at 1st resulted in Tyler Colvin grounding out on an excruciating close play at 1st. This play became important due to Derrek Lee blasting a HR into Kentucky. Hopes continued to build when the Cubs loaded the bases thanks to a PH single by Fukudome and a couple of Reds defensive miscues. It wasn't to be, however, as Chad Tracy check swinged his way to the 3rd out.
Right now we can at least take heart that it *is* early, thus plenty of time to correct these early trends. Outside of a trade though, I'm just not seeing where the bullpen corrections will come from, I'm afraid. Maybe I'll just keep my fingers crossed, and suggest you do the same.
It's hard to forget how, several weeks ago, the baseball season started to high expectations but low drama. Despite our greatest hopes, the Cubs just kept crashing and burning, leaving our playoff hopes dashed before they even managed to escape from the month of April.
...wait, this is only the 3rd game, and the Cubs won 2-0? What with all the gloom (and hints of doom), I would've thought they were 10 games under .500 by now. Nevertheless, Randy Wells and a surprisingly effective Cubs bullpen shut down the dangerous Braves in order to avoid a season starting series sweep.
The pen pitched 3 innings of relief, allowing 2 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 3. Only John Grabow continued to serve up shit sandwiches, walking the one guy he faced in the 8th.
Offensively, the Cubs continue to give Rob concerns. They only managed 4 hits and 3 walks, and taking a page from the Dusty Baker days they scored both their runs off of solo homers -- Tyler Colvin and Marlon Byrd delivered.
So. The Cubs are now 1-2. They limp out of Atlanta, away from the blown calls, missed chances, and defensive mishaps. They managed to score 9 runs, the bullpen looked awful twice (well, once was all Samardzija, but that's like saying our national debt isn't so bad if we ignore how we're 9 trillion in the hole).
We'll have a Series Preview for you bright 'n early tomorrow. Maybe this next one will be a bit better.
Current Record: 1-2
Position in the NL Central: 5th place, 1.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 160-2
Worst Possible Record: 1-161
Record needed to win 120: 119-40
On Pace For: 54-108 (relax, it's way early)