For the rest of us, though, it was a small taste of what 2009 should be like. The Cubs played the role of a powerful team with bullpen and bench depth that battled back, overcame adversity, and scored a lot of runs against good pitchers with no room for error.
The team was offensively solid, again, collecting 9 hits while drawing 5 walks. Just like the Cubs of yore. Every regular sans Fukudome managed to get a hit, the 4-5-6 guys drove in all the runs, and the Jake Fox third base experiment continues to ... well, continue. Fox went 1 for 3 today with 3 RBI and he even managed to avoid making any errors!
But probably the best story of the game is Randy Wells. This guy has been through a lot. Despite his 2.57 ERA this year, it took Wells 8 tries to earn his first-ever big league win. I remain unconvinced that Wells will remain successful for the duration of the '09 season, but wouldn't it make for an awesome story if he does?
Anyway, the Cubs are now 34-31. They play again tomorrow night in a theoretically tougher make-up game against Atlanta, who themselves aren't exactly on the right track to the playoffs. After that it becomes a race with jet lag as the Cubs take on the first-place Tigers.
Current Record: 34-31
Position in the NL Central: 3rd place, 2.5 games out
Best Possible Record: 131-31
Worst Possible Record: 34-128
Record needed to win 110: 76-21
On Pace For: 85-78
Jeremy Sowers (1-4, 5.14 ERA) vs. Randy Wells (0-3, 2.55 ERA)
For those of you who missed yesterday's GameCast -- or even noticed that it never got published -- blame me. I forgot it was such an early game and I had to leave early to do some important, pre-wedding, oh-s-word-we-haven't-bought-rings-yet-and-the-wedding-is-next-weekend stuff. Anyway...
The Cubs -- who have performed dramatically below our expectations this season -- have won three games in a row, all in their last at bat, often in unexpected and unlikely ways. Consequently, while they are only 2 games over .500 they're also only 2.5 games out of first (and share a tie for the lead in the loss column).
Earlier this week, bloggers* started calling for the termination of Cubs' skipper Lou Piniella. Maybe it should've been done sooner based on the completely unrelated results.
(*Well, at least one blogger did)
Derrek Lee - Oh, how I remember the attitude of Cub fans dating back to last October. Lee was washed up. The Cubs should've traded him -- despite his no-trade clause -- and let Hoffpauir start. And do you remember how he started out in '09? Fuel to the Hate 6-4-3-Lee Fire. And yet, here he is, carrying the Cubs on his wide shoulders. In the month of May he batted .313 with 4 homers, 9 RBI, and a .955 OPS. Since June started, he's turned it up a notch and is batting .375 with 6 homers, 16 RBI, and a 1.155 OPS. Not bad for a guy past his prime.
Milton Bradley - In the past week, Milton is batting .333 with an OBP of .391. Hey, maybe the Cubs should bat him 2nd? Just a thought.
Geovany Soto - 5 for his last 14, batting .357 with an OPS of 1.256. Not bad.
Kosuke Fukudome - 4 his last 13, batting .308 after a long, long slump.
Mikey Fontenot - Even I think he's done as a starter. At the very least the Cubs need to evaluate his splits and keep him on the bench full time vs. lefties. Against righties this year he's batting a still-bad-but-good-enough .253 with an OBP of .350 and OPS .768. If only the Cubs had somebody who hit well against lefties that could play third base...
Carlos Marmol - in his last 4 appearances he's surrendered 3 hits in 3.2 innings, while walking 5. Time for Larry to earn his pay -- fix what's wrong with this guy already!
Randy Wells is so overdue for a win that it's kind of ridiculous. The problem has long-been an inability to drudge up offensive support mixed with the failures of the bullpen to keep a lead. Well, minus Marmol, the bullpen has been outstanding the last week or so and the offense appears to fnally be clicking. This could be the day.
Friday night's victory, achieved through a walk-off homerun by Derrek Lee against Wood is like nothing compared with today's, in which Wood imploded on the mound giving the Cubs the victory in the 13th inning.
For the record, before the start of June the Cubs had played in three extra inning games. Since June, they've played seven long games out of fifteen possibilities. That's kind of nuts.
It would never have happened without Derrek Lee and Kerry Wood. Lee hit another homerun today, this time a 2-run shot, which put the Cubs on the board in the 5th. That was followed with a homerun by Micah Hoffpauir in the 6th, which briefly gave the Cubs the lead until Carlos Marmol came undone in the 7th (his 3rd straight appearance, by the way), which is how the game would look until the 13th.
Amazingly, the Cubs probably should have lost. They had 12 total hits and 6 walks, failing to score on 19 separate opportunities, and to add insult to injury Dave "Bonus Baby" Patton served up the go-ahead homer to Luis Valbuena in the top of the 13th. (Valbuena had 2 homeruns himself today against the Cubs.) That's when Kerry Wood came into play.
Wood came in and promptly surrendered a single to Fukudome but was able to negate a potential hit-and-run by striking out Three Finger. The only problem was that Fuku managed to steal second anyway and, thanks to a bad throw by Kelly Shoppach was able to advance to third. At that point Andres Blanco singled home Fooky, reached third on an Aaron Miles single, and scored on a Wood wild pitch.
Thanks, Kerry. You managed to let yourself get beat by two of the worst hitters on the Cubs roster, and a third Cubs hitter who hasn't so much as scratched the ball since the beginning of May. If you were still a Cub we'd be livid.
Actually I'm being a little unfair to Kosuke. He had a 4 for 5 day against the Indians pitchers and also drew a walk. But still -- getting beat by Blanco and Miles is sort of like losing a boxing match to your 120 pound girlfriend. Moy embarassing.
The Cubs play for the sweep tomorrow. Hey, I'm not one to complain or anything but ... maybe they can try to win before their last at bat of the game for once? Just a thought.
Rich Harden, our team's supposed best-stuff pitcher, squared off against Cliff Lee and turned it into a one-sided pitching duel. It was 7 to 0 in the 5th, Mark DeRosa had heart-breakingly contributed to the bloodshed, and Harden was brushed aside like a fly.
At that point it was evident. The Cubs were done for. The season was wasted. I mean, if the Cubs get blown out at home by one of the worst teams in the AL then what chance do they have against some of the best teams in the NL?
Anyway, it wasn't a total waste. Once the game was out of reach the offense showed some sparks of life. Reed Johnson made the first score in the 5th with a solo homerun, and then Derrek Lee contributed a solo shot in the 6th. In the latter situation, Lee was not the first at bat in the inning. If Bradley was able to actually hit the ball regularly or get on base, then it may have been a more meaningful two run homer, but we all know Bradley is a waste.
Speaking of Lee, I have to say that upon reflection, you were all right. At the end of the '08 season, and again in the Spring and early parts of April, a number of fans had proclaimed that he was washed up and should be replaced by Hoffpauir. I admit that I defended Lee strongly at the time, citing Hoffpauir's old age and fluke-until-proven-otherwise status, but I was wrong. While he hit a meaningless homerun in the 6th, Derrek Lee is not the player he once was.
(Sorry, I couldn't help myself up until now)
It wasn't until the 8th inning -- with two outs against them -- that the Cubs began to play like they should have played all year long. The unlikely heroes of the inning were Andres Blanco, who singled home 2 runs with 2 outs, Koyie Hill, who was safe thanks only to a fielding error by Peralta (and, consequently, who scored Reed Johnson on the play) and Alfonso Soriano, who singled home Blanco. Suddenly, just like that, it was a 7-6 game. Not to worry, the Indians survived the onslought and had their closer ready to finish off the Cubs.
It just figures that much as Mark DeRosa would play an important part in the game for Cleveland by going 1 for 3 with an RBI and 2 walks, Kerry Wood would step in to extinguish a comeback attempt in the 9th. He probably would've done it, too, had it not been for that damned Derrek Lee.
Mr. Lee, who went 3 for 5 on the day with a double hit his second homer of the day, still a solo shot but this time a game-tying one to boot. Does that remind you of anything that has happened before? Well, it wasn't on ABC, and the Cubs weren't facing the Cardinals, but an ex Cub closer was on the mound and he did serve up the second homerun hit by a Cubs star, resulting in a tie game and elevating Cub fans everywhere. And then just like in 1984, a scrappy middle infielder singled home the winning run in the 10th ... also off of an ex Cub pitcher Luis Vizcaino.
Oh, and before I forget -- he scared us in the 10th, but Kevin Gregg managed to load the bases and send them home without damage. I just wanted to note that.
Derrek Lee now has a .285 AVG on the season, he's hit 11 homeruns, and for a little while at least he's justified batting him third in the lineup. We have modestly criticized Lee in the past for not being a team leader, and I still don't think he's one in the traditional sense. But if he wants to lead by example the rest of the way, and if he wants to elevate the team with his bat at every given opportunity then you won't hear complaints from this peanut gallery.
This will have to be extremely short. I got dragged into a meeting at work which lasted twice as long as I was hoping it would resulting in the writing and posting of this GameCast after the game has actually started. But I won't cheat ... I'm not looking at the boxscore til it's written.
One team began the year in the basement. The other has gradually fallen toward it. The Cubs have done nothing to really demonstrate the possibility that they are, y'know, good. But I think they'll start turning things around if only they were able to assemble their puzzle pieces in a semi-coherent manner.
Louddites are mad at this blog currently because some unfunny dork suggested the Cubs might be better off without him. Still, it's been a few days since the idea was first put forth and, despite regular pleas for logical reasons, the only thing Louddites have been able to retort with is "Piniella isn't responsible for his entire team being in an offensive slump." Hey, to take a page from our counter-programming friends, prove that. If one guy is in a slump, it's bad luck. If two are in a slump together, it's a coincidence. But if more than half the team is in a slump all at once? That's something somebody needs to be accountable for. But wait, they fired Gerald Perry! Problem solved, then.
Eh, we'll look at this more a little later. It's hard to argue that anybody is, though.
See statement above. The entire team is underperforming in a miserable way.
I think yesterday's game against the White Sox was an awakening moment. So here's my predictions for today's game: the Cubs will regularly get hits but will have to pick and scratch for runs. Mark DeRosa will hit a double or perhaps a homer. Between them, the Cubs and Indians will combine to score 9 runs but I am not predicting a winner just now. And ... as of one hour into the game...
Ever want to see a Cub fan cry? If it's not October, your best bet is to visit Wrigley Field for a game which features the return of not one but two departed Cub stars. Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood will be back this weekend, hoping to propel the lowly Indians past the dreadful Cubs.
Me, I'm thinking that this is the series where -- I know, I've been saying it a lot -- th Cubs bust out. They just experienced the rollercoaster high of a dramatic 9th inning win against a heated rival and their slumbering offense may be on the brink of waking up.
Of course, our friends would probably point out that baseball players perform based on statistical probability. Unlike how you or I may bungle tasks or projects at work if we are feeling distracted or depressed, in baseball things like "feelings" -- which cannot be statistically quantified -- do not impact the play on the field. So, the thrill of yesterday's win means absolutely nothing to today's game in the world of counter-programmers. Hey, they're probably right.
Friday, June 19th - Cliff Lee vs. Rich Harden
Lee -- who owned the AL so hard last year that some teams still owe him his pimping money -- has continued to pitch well in 2009, but unfortunately for a team with an offense almost as schitzo as the Cubs'. His ERA is nearly 2 runs lower than Harden's and he's thrown nearly 50 more innings and yet he's still only 4-6 on the season.
Rich Harden, meanwhile, pitched well in his return to the team and is looking to further increase his trade value but giving a strong performance against an American League team. I still think he's been much better than his 4.53 ERA conveys, but what do I know -- his ERA is a stat and I can't prove my thought so I'm clearly wrong on that one too.
Saturday, June 20th - Tomo Ohka vs. Ted Lilly
Tomo Ohka, meanwhile, is a new addition to the Indians rotation. So far he's their version of Randy Wells -- winless in multiple tries. Although he's thrown way fewer games and has had dramatically less success. Then again, he's probably nothing like Wells at all, except he too looks like K-Fed.
Theodore Roosevelt Lilly sometimes serves as Bill Murray's body double at public functions. But on days that he pitches he most resembles Hannibal. Either way, it almost seems amazing that he's won 7 games for a team as offensively erratic as the Cubs. So far in '09 he's been a lot like Ryan Dempster of '08 in this one regard: nearly unbeatable at home. Lilly is 4-1 with a 1.48 ERA at Wrigley Field.
Sunday, June 21st - Jeremy Sowers vs. Randy Wells
Back in the day of Dusty, even crappy lefties like Sowers would tie the Cubs up in knots. But while Sowers throws with his south paw, he might as well be aspiring to toss batting practice. So far in '09 he's surrendered 36 hits in 35 innings, coupled with 17 walks to 17 strikeouts. It should be a high scoring game for the Cubs. Keyword: should.
Randy Wells, der der der, overdue, der der der, etc. can't win blah yadda.
Seriously. Randy Wells. Wouldn't it just be ridiculous if he never won?
With this team who knows? I'd like to think that the win yesterday vs. the Sox is the spark the team needed, but baseball is never so simple. Still, the Indians suck and the Cubs are playing at home. This is a series in which victory should be expected.
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