A long, long time ago, the Cubs were helmed by a sweater-vest wearing, smug-looking, third generation baseball man who spent a decade raising expectations while failing to deliver results. When the Cubs became a hotly-rumored sale commodity, this sweater-vested jackass departed the North Side for oranger pastures - the horse-shiz town known as Baltimore.
The Cubs have had an interesting relationship with the Orioles these past few years - even before Andy MacPhail took over. Baltimore has become the dumping ground for Cub failures. Sammy Sosa spent a year there, striking out miserably. Corey Patterson did a little bit of time in Baltimore as well. Baltimore has also recently been home to ex Cubs like Steve Traschel, Scott Moore, Paul Bako, Freddy Bynum, Jon Leicester, Rocky Cherry, and Scott Williamson. It's like a who's who of Wrigleyville Rejects down in Baltimore. Shockingly, since the last Baltimore playoff appearance, youngsters have been born and now stand on the brink of puberty. Even shockinglier - if you will pretend with me that that's a word* - the Cubs have seen the playoffs in three separate seasons since the O's last tanked against the Yankees.
(*Oranger? Shockinglier? I've often been told that I'm not allowed to make up words until I'm a famous writer, but screw it.)
That said, Baltimore now travels to the North Side of Chicago. I may be wrong, but it would appear to be their first-ever series against the Cubs. Here's what we can expect:
The Pitching Match-ups:
Tuesday, June 24th - Sean Marshall vs. Jeremy Guthrie
Before you get too excited and note that Mr. Guthrie is currently 3-7 and doctors his fastballs with the lubrication from his tears (y'know, for playing miserably in Baltimore), you should know that he's got a 3.51 ERA on the season. Additionally, Guthrie has a 3.78 ERA on the road and a 3.91 ERA in his career. But before you panic, remember two things - 1. he throws righty, and 2. he's pitching in Wrigley tonight. Boo-yah.
Sean Marshall has joined the travelling show also known as The Trade Bait Extravaganza. (Photoshop waiting to happen.) He's never going to get a crack with the Cubs. He's also unlikely to be as good as he's been when he's pitched at his best - yes, I know, that's a mouthful. Marshall may get one or two starts with the Big Team before Carlos returns in a blaze of sound and fury, and should the Cubs make a serious move for C.C. Sabathia, a couple of dominating performances might go a long way toward making the Cubs the flat out favorites to win the World Series. If they're not the favorites already.
Wednesday, June 25th - Ted Lilly vs. Brian Burres
Ted Lilly started the season 1-4. Since then, he's gone 6-1. In four starts this June, Lilly has an ERA of 2.70 and he's struck out 30 batters to 13 walks in 26.2 innings of work. No matter how you slice it, that's awesome. And while Lilly has a long, hard road to travel before he gets his ERA below 4 this season - something that likely won't happen - he very well might finish the year with respectable numbers and an October chip on his shoulder.
Brian Burres, meanwhile, has a 5.54 ERA in 209.2 career innings of work. So far this season, his ERA is 5.24. He's struck out 39 and walked 27 in 80.2 innings of work - while surrendering 96 hits. And, while he's a lefty with a good road record (2-3, 3.86 ERA), there's just something about this kid which leads me to believe that the Cubs will tee off on him with force and power.
Thursday, June 26th - Jason Marquis vs. Radhames Liz
Finally, a pitching match-up in which Marquis is the favorite! Even if Marquis wasn't 4-0 this month with a 3.20 ERA, it'd take a lot of trickery to convince me into thinking that Radhames Liz had a shot of beating the Cubs. Liz is 25, and he has a 6.65 career ERA. I mean, c'mon.
Although the Cubs are using two of their weakest pitchers in this series; hell, they're using the bottom run of the rotation in all honesty, they still have to be breakaway favorites to win and win big. A sweep isn't out of the question, and 2 of 3 wins would give the Cubs 15 on the month with 4 more to play.
It won't be entirely easy, though. There are issues that need to be addressed - what will the 25-man roster look like by the weekend? Will Marmol find his way back? Kerry Wood - is he awesome or only super incredible? These are all huge issues that will need answering in the immediate future. But one thing remains certain - the 2008 Cubs = the best Cubs team of my lifetime.
Before you read this abbreviated Series Preview, you should check out this article at The 35th Street Review. It's a White Sox blog with a sense of humor, and its editor asked the GROTA team to contribute an article. I got drafted and wrote an epic letter to White Sox fans, and I suspect you won't want to miss it; if only for the Sox-hat-wearing mulleted guy I photoshopped who's got a crack pipe in his hands and a 40 cradled in his arms. Good times.
So. With one swift sweep, the Cubs have shattered our confidence. Carlos is missing a start at the very least, the other Carlos kept missing the plate last night, and in the back of our minds is the epic collapse of '99 which really started at the hands of the White Sox. I'm not so worried, and although I just made it, I don't think the comparison holds water. Y'see, the '99 Cubs were comprised mostly of crap. Outside of Sosa, Grace, and Oh Henry, the offense was mediocre, with perhaps one exception the rotation was weak, and the bullpen was weep-worthy.
This year, even without their best hitting outfielder, the Cubs are an offensively complete team. Even without their best starting pitcher, they have a rotation that should win more often than it loses. And even though their top setup man cracked like September 2004's Corey Patterson in every clutch situation he saw, the Cubs have a solid bullpen.
Now, the one thing that we really fail to consider is the mental aspect of the game. Confidence goes a long way towards success. If the Cubs are a shaken team - and, crap, they could be - then they might be at the beginning of a very rough patch of road. But eventually, Soriano will return. I have a feeling that we haven't seen the last of Carlos, either. And while we have to wonder if the Cubs will get back to where they need to be, let's not forget that St. Louis just got swept at home by the lowly Royals. There are definitely bubbles, but still no troubles.
Okay. The pitching match-ups:
Friday, June 20th - Ted Lilly vs. John Danks
In 2007, Ted Lilly served a very important role on the team. He was The Stopper. He very often won games for the Cubs after the team had lost the previous day. Lilly has not been the same pitcher so far this year, but if he steps up this afternoon and holds the White Sox down, then that will go a long way toward re-establishing his credibility as a top pitcher, at least for me.
His opponent is 23-year-old John Danks, who is having a spectacular sophomore year after going 6-13 in '07. Danks did not face the Cubs last year, and he's a lefty, so this might be a low-scoring affair. Then again, the Cubs just might rip him a new one.
Saturday, June 21st - Jason Marquis vs. Jose Contreras
Marquis has had 3 good starts in a row - or, at least, 3 starts in which he shut down the opponents' offenses, despite a few road bumps. I still maintain that he's increasing the value of his bait for a later trade, and an excellent way to showcase his abilities to American League teams would be for him to cut up the first-place White Sox. We can only hope.
Contreras, meanwhile, has never performed the way the Yankees hoped he would after he floated his way to America five years ago. However, he does have the occasional ability to stick it to a baseball team. Depending on whether or not Marquis can continue his recent run of success, this may be a high scoring affair.
Sunday, June 22nd - Ryan Dempster vs. Javier Vazquez
Clownsevelt fill be facing a man who has displayed ace-like tendencies in past seasons. Dempster needs a solid performance to cement his pending All Star nod, and before we forget, he is undefeated at home.
Vazquez, meanwhile, has logged a lot of innings on that arm and he has always been comparable to Kerry Wood - if Woody had stayed healthy. So far this year, he's having a decent-if-not fantastic season.
Predictions: Anything goes.
Let's not forget that the Cubs are a very, very tough team at home. That's a big advantage for them, even as they try to regain altitude after losing an engine on their left wing. The White Sox have had a couple of rough patches this month, but they are riding a 3 game sweep of the lowly Pirates and they just might be feeling good about themselves right now.
It'll be an interesting, if not telling series. I will be on the road and away from the internet, so the next time you'll hear from me will be after it's all over on Sunday night. Let's hope for good news in all regards at that time.
This preview will be abbreviated, because, in Full Geek Effect I will be watching the Incredible Hulk tonight.
The Cubs are travelling to Tampa for what will prove to be a very tough three games. The Rays are hard to beat in Tampa, and they will be using some of their best, most unbeatable pitchers in this series. I've been joking with myself that this is a World Series Preview - and if that's the case, then you can bet the Cubs will be decimated by the Rays, if only to give us long-settled stress about Tampa come October.
The Pitching Match-Ups
Tuesday, June 17th Clownsevelt vs. Scott Kazmir
Ryan Dempster, as he makes his continued bid to pitch in the All Star Game, will be squaring off against Tampa ace Scott Kazmir. For those of you scoring at home, Kazmir is 4-0 while pitching in Tampa, and his home ERA is 0.35. 0.35!!! After careful evaluation, it is clear that Kazmir is due to get his ass whupped. Luckily, he's a lefty, and we all know how incredibly well the Cubs do against lefties they've never faced before.
...oh, wait. S-word.
Wednesday, June 18th - The Big Moose vs. Andy Sonnanstine
Carlos has been struggling as of late. He's not really breezing through his opponents, even in games where he gives up zero runs. He's been walking a lot of guys, he's been giving up a lot of hits, and most importantly, he's been activating his self-destruct button late in games. Fortunately for the Cubs, when Carlos self-destructs, he just tends to hop around and curse loudly into the night air.
Andy Sonnanstine, apart from having a pretty funny name - Israelites vs. the Sonnanstines, Son of the Stine, I could go on but you still wouldn't laugh - is a pretty tough cookie. He's 25, he's already won more games this year than he did all of last season (7-3 vs. 6-10), but his ERA is 4.89 and he physically resembles Mark Prior if The Ex Franchise contracted AIDS and became a loan shark. (Thin and creepy, my friends.)
Thursday, June 19th - Irish vs. James Shields
Gallagher is coming off a tough loss to Toronto, and he really needs to demonstrate that he can pitch past the 5th and 6th innings. James Shields is 26, has a 4-5 record, but also maintains a home ERA of 1.72. Also, he resembles that guy who stole Cameron's car in Ferris Bueller. I don't know how that really plays a part in things, but I've got little to say about this guy, aside from the fact that he's likely to dominate our offense.
Woof, tough series. The Cubs have a great offense, and that's an advantage. They've never faced the Rays before though, and that's problematic. They've been playing great baseball lately, though, and that's an advantage. The first pitcher they face is a lefty, and that's problematic.
Put it to you this way. The best team in baseball would have trouble taking more than 1 of 3 from the Rays at home with that pitching rotation. ...wait a second, the Cubs are the best team in baseball? How 'bout that? Just to give them the benefit of the doubt, and because Tampa's not intimidating anybody with their 6-7 record in June, I think the Cubs can take this series. In fact, I'll go so far as to say this...
If Chicago takes 2 of 3, I will be awed, amazed, and confident in this team's ability to win more games than any other team in baseball in 2008.
If Chicago takes 1 of 3, no bubbles no troubles, it'll just make for a more interesting October when Tampa's our opponent.
If Chicago gets swept, I'll slap the panic button and call for the immediate acquisition of another ace starting pitcher. Not that I won't be doing that anyway.
It's halfway into June, and the Cubs have won 10 of the 14 games I projected they needed to win to do well this month. If Chicago can go 4-9 the rest of the way out, then they will have met my lowest expectation for the month. At this stage, I have a strong feeling that if the Cubs "only" finish one game over .500 in their roughest month of the season, then we'd all be pretty disappointed.
On the contrary, the Cubs are continuing to play great baseball against tough teams. Although they are under-performing and their manager is on the brink of being fired, the Jays are not easy to beat here in Toronto, and yet the Cubs did well to make it look easy.
Today, the Cubs scored 7 runs before the Jays even managed to score 1 off of 12 hits, and only 1 of those 12 hits was a homerun. In fact, the Cubs scored all their runs but 2 off of singles - a sight that would have been uncommon back in the days of Dusty. Every Cubs regular except DeRosa got at least 1 hit, none got more than 2, the team collectively drew a solitary walk, and Aramis Ramirez hit his 10th homer of the year.
Ted Lilly, meanwhile, gave the Cubs another reasonably solid performance. I describe it as such primarily because Theodore Roosevelt Lilly gave up a whole whack of walks in his 6 innings pitched - 5 guys. He also managed to strike out 6, however, and more importantly he allowed only 1 walk. He was relieved by a Cubs bullpen that hemorrhaged runs - 1 by Eyre, 2 by Cotts, and even 1 by the solid Kerry Wood - but the Cubs escaped with another victory and a series win against the Jays.
The Cubs did what they needed to do. They came to Toronto, played a tough Blue Jays team, auditioned A.J. Burnett who gave a solid performance and earned me a free slice of pizza, and most importantly, they took 2 of 3. The Cubs are now 20 games over .500, and in spite of a Soriano injury, they appear to be cruising. Not even the appearance of a handful of reCards could stop the Cubs, who now travel to Tampa where they will play their soon-to-be World Series rivals. Should be a lot of fun.
Lastly, I would like to thank Byron for posting a handful of times today, including an abbreviated recap, while I'd also like to apologize for my own abbreviated recap. I have a tremendous, painful headache and will wrap it short with a photoshop:
Current Record: 45-25
Position in the NL Central: 1st place, 3.5 games ahead of St. Louis
On Pace For: 104-58
Record needed to win 120: 75-17
The last time the Cubs were in Toronto I was 23, they were having the best season of my adult life as they were en route to a playoff appearance. Mark Prior was on that squad, and I have fond memories of cursing his career by loudly proclaiming before the game "you're going to be a Cy Young award winner! A Hall of Famer! You're awesome!" In part because Sammy Sosa was on suspension for corking his bat, the Cubs proceeded to get smoked by the Jays in two out of the three games played, including during the Prior Jinx Game - even after Troy O'Leary briefly put the Cubs in the lead by hitting a rare grand slam.
Not that it mattered too much. The Cubs were a good team that year, and they proved it by crushing my hopes and dreams in the 6th and 7th games of the NLCS. F*ckers.
The Cubs return to Toronto starting tonight. It should be an interesting series - the Jays can't score a run to save their life but, like last time, the Cubs are without one of their biggest bats. Anyway, onward to the preview:
Friday, June 13th Sean Gallagher vs. A.J. Burnett
I was particularly hoping to see Carlos Zambrano pitch this game, but instead I'll have to settle for watching my favorite young Cubs pitcher. Gallagher - who looks like a total tool in his profile photo - hasn't performed too badly, although he's yet to really buckle down and consistently deliver his best.
His opponent will be A.J. Burnett, a July trading deadline candidate who very well might find himself in Cubbie blue before the dog days roll in. Burnett has great strikeout stuff, but he's been entirely too hit and miss this season. If he's on his game, then he'll be a force for the Cubs to reckon with. But if he's spotty - as he can be - then the Cubs could rip him for some runs.
Saturday, June 14th Jason Marquis vs. Roy Halliday
Marquis looks to build on his last two starts, where he didn't entirely suck (but wasn't entirely good, either). He's facing an uphill battle against Halliday, who is one of the best - and most under-appreciated - pitchers in all of baseball.
Actually, I got to see Roy pitch against the Cubs in 2005, when Toronto came to Chicago. After a rough 2 losses against the Jays - apparently Toronto owns Chicago - Halliday faced off against the ... uh, "great" Sergio Mitre, who somehow beat him. Hey, if it happened once, it can definitely happen again, but I wouldn't bet on it. Perhaps the one saving grace will be Toronto's inability to muster an offense, and perhaps the Cubs will squeak by with a 3-2 or 3-1 victory.
Sunday, June 15th Ted Lilly vs. Jesse Litsch
Ah, the 15th of June. It marks the beginning of my relationship with my fiancee - we've been together for six years - and it also marks Ted Lilly's return to Toronto where he will attempt to extract revenge against the team he abandoned two years ago. But he will not have an easy go of it - Jesse Litsch is 23 and talented. He has now made 32 career starts in the majors, and in that time he's gone 14-11 with 92 strikeouts, 48 walks, and a 3.65 ERA in 187.1 career innings.
In other words, it very well might be another tough game.
Prediction: While the Cubs will be catching the best part of the Jays rotation, they are fortunate to be coming to Toronto in a time of offensive struggles. It never helps a struggling offense to face a bunch of pitchers who they rarely-if-ever see, and while the Cubs will have a steep hill to climb, I'm expecting a series victory.
I've gone to great lengths in the past week to point out just how tough this schedule will be on Chicago, but so far they've handled things beautifully, even without the Fonz. If they can kick off this road trip with a couple of big wins, who knows, maybe it'll be easier than it seems.
Either way, I'm off to see the game. I'll bring a camera, I'll snap pictures, and I'll post a first-hand recap when I get back.
Overview: A year ago at this time, the Chicago Cubs were 22-28, and in the middle of a 5 game losing streak that would leave them at 9 games under .500. They didn't have a foot in the grave, but they may have had a few toes still out of the grave.
This season has been a little different. The Cubs are not playing like a Dead to the Neck Up team. In fact, they have the best record in all of baseball, they are playing the shoddy Rockies, and although there are a few annoying question marks ::cough::edmondsleadoffstartingpitchingtheriot::cough:: the Cubs continue to have the best offense in all of baseball - only Philly comes close to Chicago's 296 runs scored - and one of the best rotations as well. (In the NL, only Atlanta has allowed fewer runs than Chicago.)
While I'm excited to see the Cubs host the Rockies, while the pitching is truly clicking, the offense really needs to crank things back up. The Cubs combined to score 8 runs in their recent 3 game sweep. Let's see them score 8 runs in one night. That would be pretty cool. Onward with the matchups:
Thursday, May 29 Jason Marquis vs. Jeff Francis
Wow. If ever there was a match-up in which Jason Marquis should win, it's this one. Jeff Francis is 1-5, with a 6.18 ERA. He's given up 71 hits in 59.2 innings of work. He's yet to win on the road, and he has a near-7 ERA at night. When Cubs players heard that Francis was pitching tonight, they started partying.
Me, I believe in the concept of players and teams being "due" - something that probably leads to Colin's head swelling and exploding. I've always felt that, when an obviously bad match-up occurs the underdog is favored, mostly because statistically speaking, even Anthony Young was due to win eventually. So, maybe it won't be as easy as it should be. But it sure as hell does look easy.
Friday, May 30th Ted Lilly vs. Aaron Cook
Not too long ago, I mentioned Cook as an example of a deadline pitcher who might come to Chicago. Consider this his audition for Jim Hendry. Realistically speaking, he's just not as good as his numbers convey. Cook has never won more than 9 games in a season, he's only tossed 200+ innings once, and his strikeout totals remain very low. In other words, since I believe in "dueness" or the law of averages, Cook is statistically set up to get his ass kicked by the Cubs.
Besides, Ted Lilly has just started to heat up. While Theadore Roosevelt Lilly is bound to have some more rough outings this year, he's really just starting to build a solid run as a starting pitcher. Lilly is "due" to pitch well for a while still.
Saturday, May 31st Ryan Dempster vs. Jorge De La Rosa
The man I have nicknamed Clownsevelt (at least for as long as he follows Lilly in the rotation) is Cookian in how well he's pitched this season, and it should continue on Saturday. Dempster is facing the dull Rockies, and his opponent on Saturday will be The Man with the Nine ERA, De La Rosa. Maybe De La Rosa is "due" to win, much as Dempster is "due" to eat ass.
Or maybe this whole "due" thing is overblown. Doesn't matter. The Cubs should maul these guys.
Prediction: I don't want to say the Cubs will sweep, but perhaps they should sweep. They have two very talented pitchers going in this series, and the worst starter on the team is opposed by a punching bag. Regardless, this is an excellent example of a time when the Cubs could and should be building a big head of steam. The Cardinals have played the NL West twice as often as the Cubs so far, and they still can't keep up with Chicago. The Cubs need to take advantage of their home field and their shoddy opponents and put some more distance between themselves and the rest of the NL Central.
Playing a series in which they average 5 walks, 12 hits, and 7 runs a game should help. Let's see it happen.