Remember when the Cardinals had a stranglehold on the NL Central? It wasn't all that long ago. Since the 2000 season, the Cardinals have been playoff bound 6 times, including once when they won the fricking World Series.
I hate to give them credit, but the Cubs have been playoff bound like, 6 times since Truman was in office.* Those are some pretty heavy figures there. Serious props must go to St. Louis, who, for the past couple of seasons, have been second fiddle to the first-place Chicago Cubs. Hell, let's be fair. Even when St. Louis was winning, they were still less popular than the Chicago Cubs, although they will always be first in the hearts of the mullet wearing mid-west rednecks out there.
(*Guh. Hate the Tribune. Hate P.K. Wrigley. Embarrassing.)
But, you know, the important thing is that the Cubs are very likely to clinch their second consecutive division title while the Cardinals are in town. That's kind of cool. Cooler still - St. Louis is headed toward a 4th place finish. It must sting, those salty tears.
Anyway, let's take a gander at the matchups.
Friday, September 19th - Carlos ZambraNo-hitter (14-5, 3.41 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (9-3, 3.20 ERA)
In his last start against - of all teams - the Pittsburgh Pirates, Adam Wainwright went 4 innings, surrendered 6 earned runs, and cried into a Nike brand bath towel. Carlos Zambrano did ... oh, just a little bit better than that.
Here's what I've learned about The Big Moose: every little arm scare we've seen this year, and in past years, stems from mechanical issues. Carlos, the big lug that he is, sometimes fails to use his legs the way he should. So, he uses his arm, his shoulder, his back, his most vulgar Spanish sayings, and whatever else he can think of to bring the heat. Except it doesn't work, and Cub fans sweat bullets over a guy tossing 91 MPH fastballs instead of 98 MPH'ers. Hopefully, the no-hitter taught him his lesson. If Carlos keeps his mechanics sound, he will dominate the Cardinals again.
Saturday, September 20th - Theodore Roosevelt Lilly (15-9, 4.13 ERA) vs. Joel Piniero (6-6, 5.24 ERA)
If only. If only. If only we could pretend that the first 4 games of the season never happened to Ted Lilly. If only we could subtract every game he pitched against the Reds. Do you know what would happen if we could? The Cubs #4 playoff pitcher would have an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.24. What we do have, regardless, is a pitcher who's won 30 games in his first 2 years as a Cub. ERA be damned, I'll take it!
His opponent is Joel Piniero, a 29-year-old who's half a decade removed from his last good season. Piniero has avoided the potent Cub offense all year long and he already has an ERA of 5.24. Good luck, buddy.
Sunday, September 21st - Ryan Clownsevelt Dempster (16-6, 3.02 ERA) vs. Braden Looper (12-13, 4.06 ERA)
Dempster has done pretty much everything possible to ensure himself a lucrative contract this off season, short of punching out Albert Pujols in a game. But don't worry, there's still time for that. At this point, it remains a mystery as to whether or not Hendry will make much of an effort to pursue this surprise All Star, but one thing we know for certain is that Jim Hendry has yet to lose a free agent Cub who he wanted to keep. Remember all those bullets we sweated over Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano? Remember how he kept them in Chicago for less money than what they would have made elsewhere?
Braden Looper has been a thorn in the side of the Cubs ever since St. Louis converted him to Starterism. (It's like Judaism, but without all the laws.) However, despite his uber-impressive 2.37 ERA this year against them, Looper has yet to win a game against the Cubs. May his streak of failure continue.
Predictions: I have a pretty good feeling that the Cubs, on a gust of momentum, will blow right by the Cardinals and into NL Central Championship Clinching Goodness. Pity St. Louis, a team with expectations as big as the unnaturally large muscles on Albert Pujols. Why, one would suspect that their second consecutive year of playing crappy baseball might even be enough to drive their manager to drink. (Cue photoshop)
...naaaah. Low blow.
So, here it is. Milwaukee floats into Chicago on a river of sausage and cheddar (read: greatest river *ever*) tied for the wild card lead and still alive in the race for the Central Division title. It seems like a time when our Northern Neighbors should be enthused and excited. Of course, to think this would be to ignore the fact that the Brewers have been working dilligently at blowing a sizable Wild Card lead and now stand an excellent chance of missing the playoffs entirely (a concept that seemed an impossibility no more than a month ag0).
But take heart, Brewers fans, there is still much to celebrate. Allow me to elucidate:
- You have one fewer George W. Bush look-alike on the team! Yes, that's right, Ned Yost has been fired, proving once again that it's never wise to employ a man named Ned. The man was a moron and now he's gone. Frankly, I now fear the Brewers far more than I have at any point during this season.
- Milwaukee was named the #1 city for lesbians in 2001. Hey, wasn't "Lavergne and Shirley" filmed in Milwaukee? Hmm...
- Get this: Milwaukee is the 5th fittest city in the US while Chicago is the #1 fattest city. It seems counterintuitive, sure, but it definitely lends credence to the argument for cheddar as a diet food.
- Things can only get better from here on out. I mean, unless the Brewers should somehow continue to lose, fall out of the wild card, lose Sabathia and Sheets to free agency, and be forced into a rebuilding cycle. Barring any of that, though, things are on the upswing.
So buck up, Brewers fans, and enjoy some baseball. And if anyone else has a feel-good to send the Brewers' way, leave it in the comments.
Cubs vs. Brewers
Tuesday, September 16th, 7:05 PM CT
Ryan Dempster vs. CC Sabathia- Ryan Dempster has begun to look pretty normal recently - although not bad, just normal. Here's hoping he can return to form given the bit of extra rest Hurricane Ike has afforded him.
CC, on the other hand, continues to not look even remotely normal . Hell, he's starting to look quite a bit like Zool's perferred endgame weapon. But, he's certainly quite the pitcher and has been a great acquisition for the Brewers. Largely pointless, it seems, but great nonetheless.
Wednesday, September 17th, 7:05 PM CT
Jason Marquis vs. Ben Sheets - Okay, so maybe this one will be tough to win. Fair enough. However, Sheets is hardly a lock for a complete game, which means that the Brewers' bullpen will have to come into the game which means...
Thursday, September 18th, 1:20 PM CT
Rich Harden vs. Manny Parra - Parra tends to get smacked around not only by the opposition but by the other round fella on the Brewers. Rich Harden tends to miss bats. Lots of them. Who would *you* rather have going? Should be a good game for the Cubs.
It's time to clinch. Go Cubs.
Oh, what Ike hath wrought.
In Houston, shingles are missing, power lines are down, and big, giant silly hats are blowing in the wind. Here in Chicago, animals pair up for a boat trip as we have a brand new record for rainfall in the windy-now-rainy city. In Milwaukee, cheddar is sharpening at an alarming rate as Houston and the Cubs roll in to play baseball at the last dry spot on Earth.
It's a weird, wild world.
And so today we get to see if the rest helped the Cubs bats. Perhaps the bats, which have grown so very heavy during this last losing streak, will have returned to their proper weight (except for Soriano's. He likes the heavy bat). Perhaps the Cubs will go back to finding ways to win rather than ways to lose. I dunno. I hope so. But I do know that Houston is freakishly hot and that the Cubs are going to have to be on their games to win.
Other interesting things:
- The Cubs have a magic number of 8 for the Wild Card which means that, should the Cubs play .500 ball for the last 16 games, they will clinch regardless of an action by any other team.
- The Cubs magic number over Milwaukee is down to 10 which means that, should the Cubs play .500 ball for the last 16 games, they will clinch the division should Milwaukee lose more than a single game.
- That's freakin' awesome
- Print up the playoff tickets
Of course, the real trick at this point is getting everyone healthy and playing back up to their potential. And then, if we do that:
- We can then get the rotation set and lined up just the way we want it
- Kill Bob Howry and dispose of the body with a wood chipper
- Buy a big ol' giant flat screen so I can watch the Cubs in the playoffs in brilliant HD as God intended.
It's time to see the Cubs start playing like a playoff team because, you know, if they don't...I'll start crying.
Cubs vs. Astros at Milwaukee with the Astros as the Home Team Even Though Everyone There Will be a Cub Fan
Sunday, September 14th, 7:05 PM CT
Carlos Zambrano vs. Randy Wolf - Surely the Cubs can't look anywhere near as helpless against Wolf as they did last time they faced him. It was a rather pathetic effort on the Cubs part last time out as Wolf changed speeds effortless and the Cubs played into his gameplan by not making any adjustments. Or something. All I know is Wolf isn't that good and the Cubs are, so they'd do well to hit a bit.
Carlos is injured just a little, but now they're bringing him back after only a bit over a week of rest. Hey, I love to watch Carlos pitch as much as the next guy, but I love to watch him pitch healthy even more. While I obviously have roughly a million percent less information than the Cubs organization, it seems like it couldn't have hurt to just let Big Z have another day of rest.
Monday, September 15th, 1:05 PM CT
Jason Marquis vs. Brian Moehler - Marquis has been less terrible than usual lately, so hopefully he'll keep up his little hot streak. Hey, he might even make a playoff roster!
Moehler's been known to give the Cubs fits from time to time. This'll be a tough wn for the Cubs.
This is an important series as the Cubs try to get their feet back under themselves. Go Cubs.
This Series Preview was sent from Jason's iPhone.
Apologies for the belated nature of this post.
The Cubs have started out September just like we hoped they wouldn't. Loss after loss, a team that was once an unstoppable force of motion and ... uh, force ... ahem .... well, the Cubs have been playing like refried shiz ever since the Phillies took the last 2 of their 4 game series to end August.
Consequently, Cub fans have been jumping off the ledge faster than stock brokers when befallen with the crash that perluded the Great Depression. It's pretty sad when you think about it. Despite losing 7 of their last 8, the Cubs have the best record in the National League. They've got a 4.5 game lead on a Brewers team who's lost 6 of their last 8 - and that's the largest lead of any playoff-bound team in the NL, by the way - and there are multitudes of Cub fans who have already declared this a lost season.
I'm sorry, but that's embarrassing. It's tough enough for me to read all about it on the net. If I was in Wrigleyville listening to these guys lament their sorrows while drowning in Old Style, I'd probably start throwing punches. Now, I mean no disrespect to those of you who have lost your courage and are no longer capable of believing that anything good will come of this season, I'm happy we have your patronage and I welcome your comments, but you depress me far worse than any Cubs losing streak possibly could. My one piece of advice to you is this: in 2009, any time you feel that the Cubs are done, stick a fork in 'em, cancel Christmas kitchen's closed, deposit $100 into a high interest savings account. In late October, when they really will be done one way or the other, withdraw that money. At the very least, you'll be able to take your family out to an expensive dinner. In all likelihood, you'll have enough money to take a nice vacation some place warm. And, extremely, if you find that you cannot afford to keep up with your doom and gloom mentality, then use what money you've been able to tuck away in order to book an appointment with a top-notch therapist in order to analyze behavior that I would characterize as being Immensely Unhealthy. Either way, you win, just like the Cubs will.
Anyway, let's take a look at the series preview, Cubs vs. Cardinals.
Tuesday, September -9th Ryan Dempster (15-6, 2.94 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (13-6, 3.82 ERA)
I'm tempted to write, "if Ryan Dempster can avoid the wrath and fury of Albert Pujols, then the Cubs will be in a good position to win," but I think you'd be smart enough to see through my facade. I will say this. Dempster - like the rest of the Cubs - has been slumping as of late. But, through 6 innings of work, he's allowed 3 runs. Most months, the Cubs kill a team if their pitching holds the opponent's offense to 3 runs, but lately our Cubs have struggled to produce.
They've been coming close to punishing the Cardinals, however, and after 5.1 innings were able to chase Lohse from the game. The Cubs of any other year lose tonight because they have failed to take advantage of early situations. The Cubs of 2008, the past 8 games excluded, score 5 runs after the 7th and make it a blow out. Tonight's Cubs score 2 more and then scare the crap out of us in the 9th.
Hey, nobody said anything was easy, and nobody promised any kind of reward. It is what it is. You know what it isn't, though? Cliff jumping time.
Wednesday, September 10th - Ted Lilly (13-9, 4.43 ERA) vs. Braden Looper (12-11, 4.09 ERA)
Theodore Roosevelt Lilly was, at one point, on the brink of being an above average #4 guy. Then he faced the Reds again. I'm not sure what Cincy knows that the rest of baseball doesn't, but he got lit up like a doobie in a college dorm room. In 2007, Lilly was an effective guy at stopping a losing skid; in 2008, we've been happy during the long stretches when he was effective at all.
Braden Looper is a converted reliever. I can't believe the luck the Cardinals have had with those guys. It's not getting them into the playoffs, though, and while Looper has fared well against the Cubs this year, they are overdue to a) beat the holy hell out of a team, and b) demolish Looper.
Thursday, September 11th - Rich Harden (9-2, 1.99 ERA) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (12-6, 3.74 ERA)
Rich Harden quietly skipped his last start due to arm soreness. Wouldn't it just be so damned Cub for both of the team's top starters to go down in September, allowing us to instead witness a ghost of the team flail and fall in the playoffs? Well, as somebody who does not subscribe to superstition, and as somebody who does not believe in curses, I'm having a lot of trouble accepting my previously stated premise. In other, less confusing words, I have to believe that Harden will be fine.
Todd Wellemeyer, meanwhile, is a converted reliever. Like Looper, he also has had a tremendous amount of success this season, but he's done only "ok" against the Cubs. He's in over his head against Harden, assuming the Cubs ace isn't a shell of himself. But why would he be?
Predictions: I remember a few years ago, I was standing with my boss outside of this little shop I worked in. We were looking down the street, which on a bit of a hill, at a very large kid on a bicycle. He was huffing, puffing, sweating and swearing, but he just couldn't get his bike to pedal. He was stuck on the hill. My boss looked at him and laughed, and he said "inertia is a bitch." He was right, and it works in both ways. The Cubs are right now at the bottom of a hill trying like hell to get back up to the top again. Once they get back up there, they will have momentum. They have time to muscle their way on up. It starts tonight.
The next time I post on this blog, things will already be different. Maybe the Cubs will surprise a lot of us tonight and pull off a very satisfying win. Or maybe they will dog it out with the Cardinals, giving and getting, playing into extra innings before Bob Howry steps up to the mound and incinerates the game with another of his meaty fastballs.
I don't know if the Cubs will win this series. I don't know if the slump is over. What I do know is what I've always known - the most important games this month are the last 10. No, scratch that. The last 10 are important, but the last 5 are huge. Right now, everything in between is sound and fury, signifying nothing, scaring the crap out of everybody.
As I write this, the Cubs are trailing 1-0. Jason Marquis has done well, but clearly not well enough, and the Cubs are being 1-hit by Roy Oswalt. Oops, make that 2-nil, but at least the Mets are beating the Brewers.
Anyway. It is now September. The Brewers play an easy schedule this month and will aim to continue their surge against the Cubs. The Cubs, meanwhile, are a good month away from their first 100-win season since FDR was President. However, in order to do that they will need to kick off this month by playing a team that would be playoff bound if only they were in the NL West. I'm talking about the Houston Astros, the definitive example of why the NL Central is the hardest division in baseball this year.
At 71-66, the Astros are 14 games out of 1st place and 10 games out of the Wild Card. Their job this month will be to play spoiler. They take on the Cubs 6 times this month. Let's take a look at the specific match-ups:
Monday, September 1 - Jason Marquis (9-7, 4.46 ERA) vs. Roy Oswalt (12-9, 4.06 ERA)
Jason Marquis is trying for his 10th win of the season, but he's doing it against Astros ace Roy Oswalt. Now, I know that there isn't a Cub fan out there who'd feel the slightest bit of good if the Cubs lose their 3rd straight today, but let's just try to keep some perspective. Jason Marquis is pitching.
Roy Oswalt is having a respectable year, but the Cubs should really be scoring more runs against him than they are. Maybe they'll crank it up a notch in the middle innings, but I always get a little uncomfortable when they look offensively ... well, average. Lately, that's all they've been, if not sub-par.
Tuesday, September 2 - Carlos Zambrano (13-5, 3.53 ERA) vs. Brandon Backe (9-12, 5.42 ERA)
Carlos Zambrano hates Augusts the way some of us hate Mondays. He's been having a rough go of it as of late, but let us not forget that he would pitch with a knife sticking out of his right forearm, and he'd probably pitch well. He may be having some weird arm issues this year, but I am confident that the Moose will rediscover his groove sometime before the end of the month. Maybe it'll be tomorrow.
If Carlos is going to struggle, though, he drew the big straw in his pitching opponent, Brandon Backe. Maybe Lou did it intentionally - saving Carlos for a game where he can probably afford to cough up a few runs in the 4th or 5th, as the Cubs offense should feast on Backe.
Wednesday, September 3 - Ryan Dempster (15-5, 2.95 ERA) vs. Randy Wolf (8-11, 4.73 ERA)
Ryan Dempster has, from the purely statistical perspective, become the team ace this season. He has pitched effectively from the first game to the last, and he seems very capable of reaching 18 on the season. His opponent on Wednesday will be Randy Wolf, one of several Astros pitcher who make Jason Marquis look like a blessing. It's really quite surprising that Houston has managed to win 71 games this season when you consider the tools they've been working with.
Predictions: The best thing about the Cubs: it`s really not over for them until the final out. They are presently being one-hit by Oswalt, but sooner or later the bats will come out and runs will be scored.
As I said earlier, nobody wants to see the Cubs extend their current little losing streak. The Astros are a tough team, but the Cubs are a better one and they could and should take this series. Being realistic, if the Cubs do lose a game, it will be today`s, but there`s no reason for that to happen. Chicago could and should put up some runs against Oswalt and the Astros bullpen.
In the meantime, the Mets beat the Brewers today. No ground will be gained. Let`s hope that the Cubs are watching the scoreboard and that they understand how beneficial it will be to explode for a 7-spot in the 6th inning. And they may need that many, because Jason Marquis is having his 5th Inning Self Destruct as this is written.
Hey Jason, relax. You`ve got another year on your deal, you`re not going to make the post season roster no matter what you do, and the Cubs can`t miss the playoffs because you suck. With the pressure off your back, just go out there, throw some strikes, and let the magic happen. Sound like a plan?
They've asked the numbers guy to do the series preview today, which means that you're like as not to notice more than a few changes in how things is done. Numbers, away!
I'm using a (slightly) more sophisticated version of the Predict-A-Tron. I'm not modeling for the platoon advantage, but I am modelling different lineups. I also made one essential change, adding bullpens to the pitching lines. (I feel kind of stupid for not having done that sooner.)
The Cubs are expected to score 5.37 runs against RHP per game, versus 5.33 against LHP. Phillies use the same lineups against both sides right now, it seems, for 5.25 runs per game. These are both very good offensive teams.
What may surprise you is how good their pitching is. The Phillies have the third-lowest team ERA in the NL. (And it's not like they get a lot of help from their home park.)
I'm using RA instead of ERA - it's just like ERA, but with unearned runs included. It's much easier to compare to team runs scored per game that way. RAs listed are based upon a Fielding Independent Pitching model, and are estimations of future performance, not performance to date. (I wouldn't call them projections - they're not robust enough for that yet.)
The bullpens are neck-and-neck - 4.36 RA for the Cubs, 4.32 for the Phils. This may change, however, if they give Les Walrond more innings. (No, I'm not kidding. Les Walrond.)
"Cubs win" refers to their percent chance to win the game.
Dempster (3.62 RA) versus Hamels (3.65 RA) - This is a real ace on ace matchup, and should be a very good game. The Cubs have home-field advantage and should be favored to win, albeit only slightly. Cubs win .546
Harden (2.98 RA) versus Blanton (5.10 RA) - Two Oakland A's pitchers reuniting after this summer's fire sale. Rich Harden has been amazing for his new club; Blanton... has not. I guess 11 strikeouts a game fares better outside of the Oakland Colliseum than whatever Blanton's doing. Cubs win .656
Lilly (4.62 RA) versus Myers (4.98 RA) - Both players have had disappointing seasons; Myers even spent some time in AAA this year trying to get straightened out. That doesn't make them bad pitchers, necessarily. But neither was the ace their clubs expected them to be. Cubs win .533
Zambrano (4.27 RA) versus Moyer (4.47 RA) - You'd really like to think that Zambrano was really, really better than Jaimie Moyer, wouldn't you? Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus doesn't think our rotation has a high enough fear factor without a 100% effective Big Z. I think he got a little annoyed when I called him Joe Morgan. Another game where the Cubs are favored, although not heavily. Cubs win .520
Estimated Win % for series: .564
Cubs should win at least two games, possibly three. This would be a nice series to do some damage in - even though it is a home set, the Phillies are the third-toughest opponent the Cubs have left, and after that we have a nice six-game stretch with the Reds and Astros where we can lard our win count a bit. A strong showing the next ten games could salt a lot of things away for the Cubs.
I updated the strength of schedule worksheet using these win probabilities, and we're just shy of 100 wins expected at 99.9182. That's another reason I'd like to see a strong showing against the Phils; taking three games from the Phillies would seriously increase our chances at 100 wins. I expect the Mets and Brewers to be more motivated than the Cubs at the end of the season, so an early push to 100 would be fantastic.
If there is any justice in the world, the Cubs will sweep this series with extreme malice aforethought.
You may recall a couple of weeks back, when Kurt penned some posts about the Overwork of Carlos Marmol, during the stretch of time Carlos Was Getting His Groove Back. This also happened to be a time when Wood was soaking his blister in pickle juice, or Moises Alou's peepee, or whatever foreign substance finally served to toughen his skin. I felt I understood Uncle Lou's motivation at the time to get Carlos some ninth-inning reps, for future reference.
Marmol is back to being the Marmolator, but now I find myself coming over to Kurt's camp. Sure, I like seeing his filthy-ass stuff as much as the next guy, but I know that you can't run the stud out there every day. The human arm DOES have a tendency to fall clean off the bone when it is asked to perform the unnatural act of throwing corrosive sliders day after day. It can unhinge itself at the elbow by shearing its ligaments, or at the shoulder by tearing its labrum.
Point is, if all goes as planned, we should have three eighth-inning leads to hold this weekend, as well as three ninth-inning leads to close. Let's see somebody else besides Marmol and Wood out there slamming the door?
UPDATE - Soriano just stole home. Need I say more about the Nats?
(Note from Kurt: Because I am an idiot, I wrote my own series preview. Rather than stick you with mine as well as Jason's, I have cannibalized mine to reflect my more philosophical thoughts about the Cubs and Reds, while cutting and pasting my opinions about the pitching match-ups into Jason's post, if only because I spent a lot of time on it. I hope he doesn't mind)
I'm just sitting here waiting to get through to Comcast to uncancel my cancelled cable long enough for RCN to cancel my cable for me.
Yeah...I don't get it either, but it gives me time to think about the Cubs (although holding the phone between by ear and my shoulder is threatening to leave me looking like some kind of twisted hunchback. Maybe time to switch sides...nope, my neck isn't flexible in that direction. Damn.).
The Cubs have survived the horrors of Florida (bad driving, alligators, old people) and Atlanta (old alligators, bad people, driving) and emerged in better condition than when they left. I'll admit that I was scared of the Florida trip before the weekend started, but as Rob stated, I had nothing to fear but fear itself. This is, of course, complete crap. There are tons of tings to fear. For example:
- Flying monkeys
- Excessively sharp cheddar
- The color puce
But few of these things directly relate to the Cubs, so I'm saying we're safe for now. Let's sit back, enjoy the ride, and PRAY TO SWEET, HOLY JESUS THAT THEY DON'T BLOW IT.
Cubs vs. Reds
Tuesday, August 19th, 7:05 PM
Johnny Cuedo vs. Rich Harden - The first time through the order, Johnny Cuedo has looked more like Ruben Quevedo (give or take a cheeseburger) before settling down, starting a family, and buying a home in Decentville (population: meh). So, if the Cubs can get to Cuedo early, they can build a little lead and make life easy of Harden.
Speaking of, Harden has been ever-so-awesome since joining the Cubs. Even in his last start, when he kind of sucked, he was awesome. Harden is completely unhittable and pretty much the only way he can get into trouble is if he starts walking people and giving up the home. Lucky for the Cubs, Mr. Three-True-Outcomes, Adam Dunn, has been shipped out.
Kurt: Harden has been hard-luck with the Cubs so far. He's only won 2 games in his 6 starts, despite a 1.80 ERA in the NL. As a team, the Cubs are 4-2 with him, the only 2 losses stemming from games in which the Cubs scored a grand whopping total of 2 runs. So far, Harden has been everything promised. He has perhaps the best stuff of any pitcher on the Cubs staff, and he has - and often delivers upon - the ability to shut down the opposition in every start.
Johnny Cueto, meanwhile, is 22 years old, and he's thrown 110 or more pitches 6 times this season. He's also had an ERA of 5.67 since the All Star Break, but Baker shockingly showed restraint in his last start, allowing him to throw only 5 innings and 95 pitches.
Wednesday, August 20th, 7:05 PM
Bronson Arroyo vs. Ted Lilly - Arroyo, he of the pointy toed delivery, has been just this side of terrible this year. And by "this side," I mean the terrible side of terrible. He's super annoying with his array of crap that he throws up there, but with the way the Cubs have been hitting, they should be able to turn around a few his changeups.
Lilly has been pretty excellent since the All-Star break. The Reds have hammered him pretty well before, but that's all going to change. It just has to our I'll cry.
Kurt: Theodore Roosevelt Lilly has been working hard to get his ERA below 4. It's been a season-long project, dating back to April 22nd, when he was able to drop his ERA from 9.16 to 7.30 after 6 solid innings of 1-run ball. In fact, if you subtract his first 4 outings from the records, Lilly has gone 12-3 this year with an ERA of 3.66. I'm pretty confident in saying that you will find no other team in baseball whose 4th best pitcher has done as well.
Bronson Arroyo, meanwhile, is perhaps the closest thing the Reds have to an ace. He's actually pitched better since the All Star Break, going 3-3 but with a 4.31 ERA. He's only faced the Cubs once this year, in a game where our beloved offense took him for a whole lot of rides. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the batting practice session will continue tomorrow night.
Thursday, August 21st, 1:20 PM CT
Carlos Zambrano vs. Aaron Harang - Aaron is the latest example of Dustification and he hasn't been remotely the same pitcher since Johnny B. Wristband rolled in. In the past, I was always terrified of Harang, but that was before Dusty got ahold of him. Now he's batting practice.
Carlos has struggled pretty mightly in his last couple of starts. He's not injured, right? Right?
Right. Here's to Carlos bouncing back.
Kurt: Once or twice a year, Carlos will go through one of those scary stretches where his pitches look flat and opponents wail on him. His last 2 starts have been that way - after giving up 9 earned runs in 4.1 innings of work against St. Louis, Carlos "improved" against the Marlins by giving up "only" 5 runs in 6 innings of work. I was watching his last start against the Marlins with my brother, who noted that, for a guy who just gave up a bunch of runs, he sure did seem to be in a jovial mood in the dugout. I noted at the time that while he was laughing and smiling then, he sure as hell wasn't too happy earlier in the game when the Marlins had lit him up like a firecracker. The Big Moose may be quick to forget, but I wouldn't question for a second his intensity and passion in a game, because he'd probably kill me if I did. The toothless Reds may be an ideal opportunity for Zambrano to dominate.
Aaron Harang needs to join the queu of pitchers whose careers have been laid to ruin by Dusty Baker. Since he pitched 4 innings in relief in that ridiculous 18-inning loss to the Padres on May 25th, Harang has gone 1-8 with an ERA of 8.26. Reds fans have to be furious. Harang was a should've-been Cy Young pitcher before this season. Now, he's a wreck.
The Cubs are swinging on over to the East coast and have lots of nasty teams to deal with. But, before the pain starts, the Cubs will have the relatively easy assignment of taking on the Texiera-less Braves.
The Braves have finally fallen from their rather lengthy reign of terror and sit in fourth place (metaphorically speaking...some of the Braves might be standing) behind the Marlins, Mets, and Phillies. Thank God for the Nationals, am I right? I mean, am I right? Ha! Yeah.
As is often the case when you're the best team in the National League, this is a team the Cubs should beat, even on the road. I'll only really be happy with the Cubs taking two out of three (okay, I'd be happy if the Cubs swept).
Let's take a look at how likely that is...
Cubs at Braves
Tuesday, August 12th, 6:00 PM CT
Rich Harden vs. Charlie Morton - Up until his last start, Harden had been unbelievably good. In fact, despite the fact that I had excessively high expectations with him coming over to the Cubs, he still managed to exceed them. Crazy, I know. Harden was hit pretty hard in his last start, but I look for him to rally today and make us all proud (I was going to go with a "puke and rally" metaphor, but I thought that might get rather gross rather quickly).
Charlie Morton is more famous for his excellent steak house, one of the best in Chicago. It's even better than Outback.
Wednesday, August 13th, 6:00 PM CT
Jason Marquis vs. Jorge Campillo - I think we all know how we feel about Jason Marquis, so there's no need to mention it. Despite this, I will, but I think it's important to constantly remind the internet that Jason Marquis sucks. So, internet, here is your reminder: Jason Marquis sucks.
Jorge Campillo, on the other hand, is quite decent. He throws a wide variety of pitches ranging from the fastball to various pitches that could be best described as "not fastballs." Cubs.com goes so far as to describe his control as "pinpoint." How many angels can dance on the head of his control? We'll find out soon.
Thursday, August 14th, 6:00 PM CT
Ted Lilly vs. Tom Glavine - It's the matchup of the crafty lefty versus the crafty serial killer. Tom Glavine is still pitching at the ripe age of 42 and Ted Lilly has a freezer full of human heads. How wins? I don't know, but I can't wait to find out!
Editor's note: GROTA is issuing an It Burns Your Virgin Eyes Warning! In this article, when you are least expecting it, our interview subject Will Leitch will let out a mighty curse that would make even the most hardened nun blush. Since we typically adopt a No Cursies! Policy, (rather than a No Curses policy; hey, we follow the Cubs) a warning has been issued. So, that's it. You've been warned. If you've got a problem with it, cram it up yer ... meh, nevermind.
Of course, everyone knows what's happened with Will since he last stopped by. First, an angry older gentleman killed Will and fashioned a suit out of his skin as Bob Costas looked on. Shortly after that incident, Will was on his way to New York Magazine. It's been all upwardly mobile for him this last year. Congratulations to him. That's just terrific. Just...terrific. I mean, it's okay that I'm still an amateur blogger, right? He's older than me, right? I still have a while before I have to try to accomplish something in the blogging world?
I swear to god, if I'm not writing for ESPN Magazine by the time I'm thirty, I'll just cry.
So anyway, he's back and ready to talk about important things, like the Cubs. And the Cardinals. And the Cubs and Cardinals. And maybe, just maybe, his answers to our questions can inspire all of us and bring a little hope into our world. Of course, that'd be pretty surprising, but it could happen.
And so, without further delay, we welcome Will back to lovely GROTA Mansion. And at his request*, we've skipped all the pleasantries and moved straight to the questions.
(* may not have actually been at his request)
GR: Okay, here's the most obvious question given that nobody expected much out of the Cardinals seeing as how it's basically Albert Pujols and a rag-tag bunch of ragamuffin kids. What would you say the key is to their success? Is Dave Duncan just a wizard or something (and I mean, literally, a wizard)?
Will Leitch: It's pretty ridiculous what Ryan Ludwick has done this year; you could make an argument he has been more important to the Cards than Pujols. (You'd be wrong, but you could make that argument.) Going into the season, I thought the Cardinals' best outfielder would be Colby Rasmus. Ludwick has been amazing (if streaky), Skip Schumaker and Joe Mather are a surprisingly effective platoon and it has been a sublime pleasure watching Rick Ankiel (swoon!) improve seemingly by the game. That outfield was supposed to be a wasteland; it's been the team strength. Much is made out of the rotation, but it has been anything from dominant. Lohse is the ace, and he's not having the season everyone thinks he's having, Todd Wellemeyer is only recently starting to look healthy again, if Braden Looper reaches the seventh inning we're doing backflips and Joel Pineiro ... well, I like the color of his glove. In other words: Duncan is getting too much credit. (I mean, he is the bullpen's pitching coach too. And if the bullpen were even halfway decent, we'd be battling you guys for first place rather than hoping the Brewers kill each other.) The offense (and defense, vastly underrated, as always) is the reason they're 10 games over .500 in a season in which we were idly dreaming of breaking even, maybe.
GR: Along those lines, the biggest surprise on the Cards?
GR: Does it bother you more that the Cubs are atop the standings rather than, say, the Brewers? Or is your only concern that the Cardinals are trailing?
Will Leitch: Dad, Wrigley is beautiful, and it's the Cards.
Bryan Leitch: But why would you go there? It's nothing but Cubs fans.
There's something pure and great about that. Why would I go to Wrigley Field? That's where the Cubs play. No other explanation necessary.
The only way I'll be able to accept the Cubs making the postseason is if the Cardinals make it too. Because this is your 100th year. This is the season everyone has been quietly waiting for. What better way to see it end than to the Cards in the NLCS? The two teams have never played in the postseason before. It kind of has to happen, doesn't it? We all need our Yankees-Red Sox moment.
GR: You are obviously far less biased than our writers - or readers, for that matter - to the point where you may in fact be a little biased in the other direction. With that in mind, in your unbiased opinion, just how good are the Cubs this year and, more importantly, do you think they will reach the post season and play like the best team in the National League, or will they get there and play like the Cubbies of old? (congratulations if you made it all the way to the end of that questions without having to re-read)
GR: You're in different circles than us working-class schmucks - what have you heard about the pending sale of the Cubs?
GR: Which Cubs pitcher do you want to see your team face the least? Which Cubs hitter makes you the most nervous when he steps up to the plate with runners on?
GR: Who would be better on "Rock Band", Mark DeRosa or Aaron Miles?
For 25 minutes, the crook had a gun to Miles' head, until the 5-foot-8 infielder, the son of a heavyweight boxer, took matters into his own hands.
He attacked the 5-foot-11, 175-pound intruder, and during the struggle, Miles bit Williams on the forearm while Williams bit Miles fiercely on the upper back. Both had their hands on the gun, and eventually, with Miles lying on top of the burglar, a SWAT policeman who'd broken through a window had no choice but to fire six close-range gunshots.
"We're downstairs in the parking lot, and you hear this, pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop," Ensberg says. "And we're like, 'Aaron's dead.' " But the cop hadn't missed, wounding Williams once in the face and five times in the upper torso. The burglar was still alive, but some of his teeth had literally been shot out of his mouth. Miles bolted through the broken window and down to the parking lot, straight into the arms of his teammate Rose.
"He nearly broke me in half," Rose says today. "He had the guy's skin in his teeth, blood all over him. I mean, the guy took a big chunk out of his back. He's cussing and saying, 'F -- those motherf--ers.' I'd never seen him like that."
GR: And finally, how does it feel to see Jim Edmonds on the Cubs and actually helping quite a bit? Cardinal fans actually liked him, right?
WL: I don't know what you're talking about. Come again?
And with that nifty little exercise in denial, we bring this interview to a close and get to the serious business of previewing the upcoming series. Thanks again to Will for stopping by. We'll all be watching closely as he ascends to dizzying heights at New York Magazine, only to have it all come crashing down after a well publicized incident involving a pontoon boat and a bottle of Grey Goose, leading to the inevitable decent into soft-core porn. On the plus side, I'm pretty sure Molly Ringwald is currently on the soft-core circuit, so he's got that going for him.
Cubs vs. Cardinals
Friday, August 8th, 1:20 PM CT
Ted Lilly vs. Braden Looper - Lilly's been pretty good of late, at least for his first five innings. That third time through the lineup, things can get a little dicey. Lilly's always been good against the Cardinals and I'm sure he's pitched many memorable games against them during his tenure as a Cub...I just can't remember.
Looper's well known for having a very large chin and an equally large amount of chin stubble. At least, that's what he looks like in his gameday photo. Looper's been Lilly-esque for the Cards this year, which is more than they could have reasonably hoped for. Of course, that has little bearing on what they actually hoped for, as reason has little impact on a Cardinals fan.
(Cardinal fans everywhere are realing from that little zinger)
Saturday, August 9th, 2:55 PM CT
Big Z vs. Todd Wellemeyer - Zambrano's been extremely great for a while now and, contrary to the rap on him early in his career, seems to now pitch to the pressure. With that, I'm expecting big things from him as he tries to bury the Cardinals. Actually, I'm expecting some thing more along the lines of "kill, burn, and bury the Cards...and then piss on the asses" as that's how Carlos rolls.
I'm always happy to see a former Cub succeed, so it's nice to see Wellemeyer doing so well. He extra innings debut back in '03 where he struck out the side is still one of my warm fuzzy memories from that year. Hell, it might be my only memory as I've blacked out the vast majority of that year. But Wellemeyer's a solid pitcher, although he's come back down to earth quite a bit since he fast start.
Sunday, August 10th, 7:05 PM CT
Ryan Dempster vs. TBA - In the past, the Cubs have always struggled mightily versus TBA, but that was the old Cubs. The new Cubs occasionally struggle versus TBA, but now it's much more of a crap shoot.
Dempster was decent in his last start an probably deserved a win as he allowed a grand total of two runs despite not having much of a fastball.
Cubs versus Cardinals! Catch the excitiment!