Cubs Pound RedBirds

W Flag.jpgAs I wrote after Friday night’s loss, this team is much different then many other Cubs teams I have seen over my 25 years of watching Cubs baseball.  This team doesn’t use excuses, they don’t hang their heads down after a tough loss, they are always ready to fight back, and that’s what impresses me about the 2008 Cubs. So far, the Cubs have not lost more than two game in a row.   I look at our 12 losses, and do you remember any game that we were blown out of?  Any game we didn’t have a chance to win?  How many of those losses did we have the winning or tying run on base in the ninth?  There is something special about these Cubs that barring any horrific injury, they will be a force to reckon with.

After losing a heartbreaker on Friday 5-3 on a Skip Shumaker walk off home run, the Cubs come back on Saturday, on Fox’s game of the week on national television, in front of a
Lilly 5-4.jpgrecord-setting crowd of 46,792 at Busch Stadium, and put a whooping on the Cardinals 9-3.  After Rich Hill’s horrible one inning start on Friday, the Cubs looked to Ted Lilly to come back and give the Cubs a long start to rest the bullpen.  Ted did just that, giving the Cubs seven innings, giving up three runs on six hits, with only one walk and four strike outs.  It was a little bit easier for Ted, having all that run support, but he didn’t let the Cardinals back into the game, and the Cubs offense kept adding runs.  The big thing is that even though his velocity is not completely back, his mechanics are looking better and he has more command of his pitches.

“Lilly gave us exactly what we wanted,” Piniella said. “He had a really good day today, and not only pitching but that double.”

The offense was clicking on all levels, scoring nine runs on 12 hits and seven walks.  Even when they lose, their patience at the plate is putting them in a position to win.  In fact, when
Fontenot home run 5-3.jpgthe Cubs loaded the bases in the fourth inning, it was the 14th straight game in which the Cubs have had at least one plate appearance with the bases full,  The last National League team to have a streak that long was the 1999 Dodgers, who had a string of 13 consecutive games with at least one plate appearance with the bases loaded. On Saturday they came through with plenty of clutch hits to get those runners home.  Fukudome hit 2 doubles with an RBI, Geovany Soto his a bases loaded ground rule double for 2 RBI’s, Alfonso Soriano hit an RBI double, and little Mike Fontento hit a three run homer for the Cubs.  All this against Kyle Lohse, who up to Saturday’s game had a 3-0 record.

Lots of Moves

There was no surprise to hear that Rich Hill was going down to Iowa after Friday night’s miserable performance.

“We need some innings, and at the same time, we need to get Rich straightened out.  I think
Hill 5-2.jpgthe consensus was that pitching in Triple-A with much less pressure was the right thing to do. I had a nice talk with him and told him we’re holding a rotation spot for him as soon as he gets straightened out,” Piniella said. “He didn’t take [the news] very well. He understands. He was more upset at himself than anything else. He’s a good kid, he really is. He’d been worrying a lot. He needs to relax and just go pitch. He’ll go down to Iowa and get a few starts, and I think you’ll see him back here pitching well for us.”

That brings up Sean Gallagher, who was trade bait for Brian Roberts all winter and spirng. Gallagher struggled in spring training, so he went to Iowa instead of with the big ball club.  So far, Gallagher is 2-2 with a 3.10 ERA (10 earned runs/29 innings pitch) in five starts with Iowa this season. He has limited opponents to a .196 batting average, including a .162 average to left-handers and a .214 mark to right-handers, and has struck out 30 and walked only nine batters in 29 innings pitched. He is the reigning Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week.  Let it be known, you can’t do your job, Lou will find someone that will.  Gallagher screws up, he’ll get his bus ticket to Iowa.  He stay hot, don’t expect to see Rich Hill anytime soon.  Also, who is going to go down when Scott Eyre is back? Smart money is on Chad Fox.  That was a bad move in the first place, considering the talent in Triple A.  The one good thing out of this Rich Hill fiasco is that Jon Lieber is going to take Hill’s spot in the rotation, and Sean Marshall will continue to be a left handed specialist.  So far, Lieber is 2-1 with a 1.86 earned-run average.  He looked like one of the best starters in spring training, especially compared to Hill, who struggled all spring.  Lieber showed everyone why he is such a class act, telling reporters he is only “holding” the spot for Hill until he comes back.  As much as Lieber wants that spot, he is trying tp keep Hill’s confidence up.  Lieber is looking like one of the best signings of the off season, even as many questioned the move.  I am happy and hope Jon can successfully hold on to that spot in the rotation.  As good as Hill can be physically, he just doesn’t have the mental composure to be a big league pitcher.

Still Not Where We Need to Be

You can tell that Lou has the heart of a champion.  Even when this team was having the best April in the 132 year history of the franchise, it was good enough for Pinella. We were winning, but there were problems that needed to be addresses, like Hill’s struggles and middle relief.

Pinella 4-24.jpg“We need to get some problems straightened out here, and once we do, we’ll be fine,” Piniella said before the game. “That’s why I mentioned when we were playing so well and winning all the games, let’s not get too giggly because we were masking some things that needed attention and needed some work. Now, we’re in the process of doing those things.”  

“Let’s get our bullpen functioning the way we thought it would coming out of Spring Training,” Piniella said. “The Hill thing was always something that was there. Now, we’re sending him out, so hopefully he can get back here and soon.

“Offensively, we have to get a little more consistent,” Piniella said. “We put 13 on the board, we put 19 on the board, and then we have a lot of games with three runs or less.”  

“One thing I’ve learned about Chicago is you’re really up or you’re really down,” Piniella said. “You have to stay more even, especially as you sort things out. We’ll be fine. It’ll be a very competitive division, but we need to sort some things out. We’ll be fine.”

Everything that Lou said was right on the money.  Even though we were having a monster April, Hill was struggling, Lilly was struggling, the middle relief had its ups and downs, and the offense was all or nothing.  The Cubs need to improve in each of these areas to be a true contender for the World Series title.  Lou knows that and he is keeping his eye on the prize;

Who Stinks Less?

Ok, so tonight pitching matchup on ESPN’s Sunday night baseball leaves a lot to be desired.  In the rubber match of the series, the Cubs will take on the Cardinals with first place on the line.  Ex-Cardinal Jason Marquis will face off against ex-Cub Todd Wellemeyer in a battle to see who stinks less.  The Cubs could really put a hurting on Wellemeyer, so let’s hope we take back what is ours!

Go Cubs!

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