It all started on a crazy night in Colorado. The Cubs came from behind and beat the Colorado Rockies on April 23rd for the 10,000 franchise win. Since then, the Cubs have fallen into a very bad pattern. They keep winning one game, then losing two in a row. The Cubs continued this pattern for the fourth time since they lost the second game to Colorado by beating the Reds 3-0 tonight. The Cubs are in desperate need of a series win, after losing three straight series, and definately need to bulild some momentum before facing the league’s best team this weekend, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Carlos Zambrano was able to outduel Aaron Harang in the battle of the aces. Zambrano was able to go eight innings, gave up only three hits (two to Griffey Jr), walked three, struck out three, and picked Joey Votto off second base. Zambrano is now 5-1 in the first week of May. Is this the year that the Cubs finally have another 20 game winner? It appears that Z’s shaved head has had no affect on his pitching, so any superstitious Cubs fans need not worry.
The offense was able to score enough runs to back Big Z up. After Soriano led off the game by striking out (big surprise), Ryan Theriot singled to right. The struggling Derek Lee flew out to right, leaving Theriot on first with two outs, but then Aramis Ramriez stepped up to the plate. Ramirz had not played since Adam Wainwright hit him in the wrist with a fastball. His bat was sorely missed and after Theriot stole second, Ramriez hit a base hit up the middle for a two out RBI single, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Ronnie Cedeno had the most clutch hit of the night. In the top of the fourth, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez both drew back to back walks. Fukudome sacrificed the runners to second and third for the first out. Geovany Soto struck out, but with two outs, Cedeno singled to right, scoring Lee and Ramirez and giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead. That was all the runs the Cubs needed as Z got them through the eighth, and on the night of ten year anniversery of his 20 strike out game, Kerry Wood closed out the ninth.
This road trip has been a disaster, especially for Derek Lee, Mark DeRosa (who sat on the bench), and Fukudome. With Soriano still stuggling, the Cubs have been losing a lot of close ball games, most of them by the score of 5-3. The Cubs are 3-13 in games where they score 3 runs or less and 16-1 when they score four or more. The Cubs need to find a way to win these close ballgames. You are not going to run up the score against a playoff team Playoff games are usually low scoring and won by the team that can manufacture runs. Lou was very frank about the state of the team after Monday night’s heartbreaking loss.
“I like our team. There are areas we need to get better at, and for us to win consistently, there are areas we have to get better at, plain and simple,” Piniella said. “We don’t have a powerhouse here. I don’t care what people say. I see this team play daily.”
I agree with Pinella on this point. Most of the MLB power ranking have the Cubs in the top 5, and I don’t buy that. Not the way they have been playing lately.
“We have a good team, and it’s a team that has to execute, that has to take advantage of opportunities, and has to pitch and has to do all the things teams do to win baseball games. We haven’t executed as well in some areas, and we have to get better. If we don’t, it’s going to be a struggle.”
“We might have to make some changes,” he said. “I hope not. I really hope not. I hope we can stay just the way we are, and we’re going through a rough spell and we can work our way through it. I’ve been giving some thought about doing some things with the baseball team. There’s no rush, but at the same time, there’s some food for thought.”
Uh-oh, the Cubbies better be shaking in their spikes, because last time Lou talked about making some changes, a lot of guys had to pack their bags. Remember last year after Lou gave a similar speech, Michael Barrett was gone, Cesar Izturis was gone, Matt Murton was sent to Iowa, Jacque Jones (who was just cut by the Tigers) was benched, etc. I hope Lou really means this, and not just to the support players, but the guys making the big bucks too. I’m looking at you Soriano.
The Cubs will send veteran pitcher Jon Lieber for his first start of the season. Luckily, Z’s eight inning rested the bullpen, which means they will be fresh for tomorrow. Lieber needs to be stretched out and may not be able to go much longer than 5 innings. Other guys will have to help out. The Reds send Edison Volquez, the second talented pitcher the Reds have in their rotation, in the rubber match of the series. In the last three rubber matches the Cubs have played in, Washington, Milwaukee,and St. Louis, they have dropped the third game. The Cubs need a win to salvage something out of this disaster of a road trip.
After losing a heartbreaker the night before, the Cubs won in decisive fashion were able to avoid their first three game losing streak of the season. With Saturday’s win , the Cubs have matched the highest April win total in franchise history with No. 16 — and there are three more games remaining. The team also won 16 in April 1969. Lou said before the seasson started that he wanted to get the Cubs off to a hot starts, especially since their are very few home games in September. The Cubs still hold a 1 1/2 game lead over second place St. Louis and have a chance to make this a winning road trip with a win over the Nationals tomorrow.
Friday Night Heartbreak
It was a game that we have gotten used to the Cubs winning, but in the end, backup catcher Wil Nieves’ hit a two-run, walk-off home run off Bob Howry for the win. It was Neves’ first career home run. The Cubs could not get a clutch hit, leaving ten men on base, including an eighth inning one out bases loadedsituation. The loss took away from an incredible Reed Johnson catch that is being called one of the best catches ever. Ryan Dempster also pitched well, giving up only two earned runs in seven innings. Dempster went deep into the game and other than a bad first inning, really should have gotten his fourth win.
Stopper Comes Through
The Cubs needed a good pitching performance to end a two game lossing streak, and he had another great outing. This is by far the best Z has pitched in April. Zambrano threw seven
shutout innings, allowing five hits and striking out five. He did walk four batters, but was able to get himself out of trouble every time. The last three Cubs starters, Marquis, Dempster, and Zambrano all went seven innings, a relief for a bullpen that was definately taxed. The Cubs were sparked by tablesetters Reed Johnson and Ryan Theriot. WIth Washington’s Matt Chico on the mound, Johson, Theriot, and Lee were 6-6 in their first three at bats. Johnson and Theriot led off the game with back to back singles, followed by a Lee single to score the first run of the game. Aramis popped out, but Fukudome walked to load the bases. DeRosa hit a single to score Theriot and Lee, making it a 3-0 ballgame. In the top of the third and one out, Johnson singled and reached third on a Theriot single. Both runners scored on Derek Lee’s double, and after just three innings, the Cubs led 5-0. They may have scored more, but Derek Lee was caught stealing third base while Ramirez was up. More on that later. Aramis would later hit a two run double to give the Cubs a 7-0 lead. Michael Wuertz looked a little better and Jon Lieber closed the game.
I know that Lou wants the Cubs to be more aggressive, especially when it comes to stealing third. The only trouble is that the Cubs have gotten caught twice trying to steal third in the past two games. It didn’t really cost them on Saturday, but it did on Friday. With one out, Reed Johson was hit by a pitch. He scored on a Ryan Theriot double, cutting the Nationals lead in half, 2-1. With Derek Lee up to bat, Theriot was caught trying to steal third. Lee would walk and Ramirez would reach on an infield single. Who knows what may have happened if Theriot wasn’t thrown out? Theriot was later thrown out at second on a strike’em out throw’em out. Pinella still feels it was the right move.
“A lot of good things are happening that are not noticed by the casual fan,” Piniella said of his strategy. “One, pitchers are slide-stepping against us a lot more. Two, infielders are holding runners on, which are creating more holes, and catchers are calling more fastballs, and those are all advantages.
“You don’t want to see a baserunner thrown out with your [Nos.] 3, 4 hitters coming up.”
Theriot ran on a changeup, which was a good pitch to run on.
“You take a risk,” Piniella said. “With certain release points and also reports on how the catcher is throwing, certain times dictate you run and the percentages are in our favor. Unless you stumble, fall, or get a real bad jump, you’ve got an 85-percent chance of making it. When you do it, it works great. We’re creating opportunities and forcing teams to adjust to our style of play. Nothing’s going to work 100 percent, but if everything works 80 percent in your favor, you have to take advantage of those things.”
Fair enough. The one thing that Bob Brenly mentioned after Theriot was caught Friday and Lee on Saturday is that the runners are not getting good secondary leads and they need to be moving towards second as the pitcher is winding up instead of flat footed. I am sure Lou and his staff will adress this soon.
Cubs Need Lilly To Come Up Big
The Cubs would love nothing more than to win tomorrow, take the series, make this a winning road trip, and get some momentum going into a big three game set at home against Milwaukee. Lilly will start for the Cubs while John Lannan will go for the Nationals. Like Odalis Perez, the Nats’ starter on Friday, Lannan has pitched well but his record doesn’t indicate this because of Washington’s lackluster bats. Lilly had a good outing last time and looks to build on that start. Let’s hope the Cubs can continue to make franchise history on this road trip, winning it’s seventeenth game in April.
Wow, I was not expecting that! One day after beating Cub killer Aaron Harang and losing left fielder Alfonso Soriano for two weeks, I was worried that there would be a little let down. But no way was there a let down as the Cubs put a beat down on the Reds. It was fun to finally watch a game that doesn’t make you pull out your hair and give you heartburn.
It all started in the bottom of the first after Mike Fontenot grounded out to first to start out the game. After that first out, the next five Cubs all got on base. Theriot doubled, Lee hit a single, and Aramis drew a walk. With the base loaded and one out, Fukudome worked it to a 3-2 count and hit a ball down the third base line that was just foul and shattered his bat. So what does he do next? He hits a double down the first base line to clear the bases. Bob Brenly put it best when he said “How do you defend against that guy?” Good question Bob. DeRosa hit a double, scoring Fukudome and the Cubs had a 4-0 lead.
After getting Brandon Phillips to strike out in the top of the second, Zambrano walked Adam
Dunn. Then Edwin Encarnacion hit a single to put runners at first and second. The next batter, Joey Votto, hit what looked like an easy pop fly, but DeRosa, who started out the game playing left field, saw the wind take the ball over his head and bounce into the bleachers for a ground rule double. The score was now 4-1 with runners at second and third and only one out. All eyes were on Zambrano, to see if he would melt down, but the Cubs luckily got a little lucky. Javier Valentin grounded out to Zambrano, who caught Encarnacion in a run down off third for the second out. Then Josh Fogg looked like he had a basehit up the middle, but the ball hit the mound, popped up, and landed in Theriot’s glove. Theriot tossed it to Lee and the threat was over. Zambrano had smooth sailing from there.
Derek Lee started off the third with a homer to center. That was Lee’s sixth homer of the season. That equals his home run total for the entire first half of last season. I just find that amazing. After that, the next three batters reached base, Aramis walking, Fukudome hitting a single, and DeRosa walking, before Geovany Soto hit a two run double. That was it for Fogg, gone without retiring a batter in the third. With DeRosa at third and Soto at second, Reed Johnson hit a sac fly. Then Zambrano helped his own cause by hitting an rbi single to score Soto. Fontenot eventualy scored on a nice play and by the end of the inning, the Cubs were up 10-1.
At that point, iit was no longer a game, just a party at Wrigley. Zambrano gave up two runs on eight hits over seven innings for the win. He also had three hits, including a double and an RBI, and had hits from both sides of the plate. Reds starter Josh Fogg was charged with nine earned runs and seven hits over just two-plus innings. Major a-hole Kent Merker, the guy who got in some altercations with Steve Stone, gave up a double to Z, threw a wild pitch, and gave up a run on a Fontenot single. Wednesday’s loss was the fifth in a row for Cincy, and the Cubs are 7-3 in their last ten games. After St. Louis beat Milwaukee again, the Cubs are now in sole possession of second place in the NL Central.
Adam Dunn finally snapped out of his slump, hitting a monster home run onto Sheffield. As usual, someone threw the ball back onto the field, and then 20 more balls littered the field. I have talked about some of the negative behavior I have witnessed at Wrigley over the last few years. I don’t know why people do stuff like this. Don’t say alcohol. I have been drunk at thousands of Cubs games and have never thrown anything onto the field of play. It just makes Cubs fans look bad. After hearing how stupid the Phillies fans sounded booing their home team constantly last weekend, I would hope that Cubs fans would learn a thing or two. I really wish these people who are acting like idiots would go do it somewhere else.
Keep it Rolling
Winning these first two games were huge for the Cubs. Now Ted Lilly, who has struggled this season, has no pressure to win this game. If he pitches well, great. If not, we still won the series. He can focus on improving his game and contributing to the team. How nice would it be to sweep Dusty and his Reds out of town.
I feel like somehow I keep getting transported to the past, maybe by a time machine, to Cubs seasons’ past. This 2008 version of the Cubs seems very similar to the 2007 Cubs after the first two weeks. Bad baserunning, bad defense, bad bullpen, walking to many batters, not taking enough walks, and no clutch hits. There are two big differences beween the 08 and 07 Cubs. In 07, the Cubs at least had some starting pitching. This season, the Cubs bullpen has worked more innings then any other team in baseball. Both of their starting lefties, Rich Hill and Ted Lilly, cannot get out of the fifth inning. The other big difference is that somehow, some way, the Cubs are actually winning games, especially one run ballgames and extra inning games. As bad as it looked in Pittsburgh and Philly, the Cubs actually are coming home after a winning road trip after taking the final game of the series against the Phils, 6-5. Some of those bad breaks that went against the Cubs last year are starting to go our way.
Jason Marquis, recovering from strep throat, was able to weasle out of plenty of jams and keep the Cubs in it. Marquis loaded the bases with one out and only gave up one run. The Cubs were able to jump out in front thanks to three singles by Henry Blanco, Alfonso Soriano, and an RBI single by Reed Johnson. Derek Lee then hit a double, driving in two more runs and giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead. Jason Werth made it 3-2 on a leadoff homer by Jason Werth, in the bottom of the fifth, but Mark DeRosa returned the favor by hitting a leadoff homer in the top of the sixth that went over the foul pole. Phils’ manager Charlie Manuel was thrown out after arguing with the third base umpire. With the Cubs leading 4-2, Marquis was done for the day and Michael Wuertz, who has been one of the most reliable relief pitchers came into the game. Wuertz gave up a solo home run to Eric Bruntlett to start out the inning, then gave up three singles in a row, tying the game 4-4. With runners at first and third and no outs, Sean Marshall came into the game and got Chase Utley to fly out, but the go ahead run crossed the plate. Marshall and Marmol finished the inning with the Cubs now down 5-4.
In the top of the eighth, former Cubs Tom “Flash” Gordon came into the game. He got Fukudome to strike out swinging, but then walked Mark DeRosa. DeRosa was replaced by pinch runner Ronnie Cedeno. Ryan Theriot hit a single, and the Cubs had runners at first and second with one out. Felix Pie was announced as the pinch hitter, but then the Phillies changed pitchers, bringing in lefty JC Romero to pitch. Lou called Pie back and brought in Geovany Soto. Cedeno then stole third on a very close play, putting runners at first and third. Geo Soto then tried to check his swing, but the ball hit the barrel of his bat and inbetween the first and second baseman, tying the game.
Closer Kerry Wood came into the game in the bottom of the eighth, and only gave up a single. The Cubs did nothing in the top of the ninth, and then the bottom of the ninth was heart pounding. Tell me if I am the only one that thinks this, but once again, my time machine came and took me back to 1989. When Kerry Wood comes into the game, do you feel like you did when Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, came into the game. You are either going to see amazing stuff, or be scared half to death, or both. In the bottom of the 9th, he walked the first batter he faced, Pat Burrell. Burrell was pulled for pinch runner and former Cardinal So Taguchi. The next batter, Pedro Feliz, bunted the ball and Wood made a dangerous throw to second to get Taguchi out. He then hit pinch hitter Greg Dobbs, putting the winning run at second with only one out, but he got Eric Bruntlett to strike out. With two outs and runners at first and second, Derek Lee made an amazing play to snag the game winning double from Carlos Ruiz to keep the game alive.
In the top of the tenth, pitcher Rudy Seanez walked Ronny Cedeno to lead off the innign. Cedeno advanced on Ryan Theriot’s sacrifice and Geovany Soto walked. With no more
position players on the bench, Lou called on Carlos Zambrano to pinch hit for Kerry Wood,. Z hit a ball to the shortstop for what would’ve been a 6-4-3 double-play, but Z was hustling down the line and Chase Utley’s throw was short and got past first baseman Ryan Howard. Cedeno was able to score the go-ahead run. Of course, nothing is easy for the Cubs. Bob Howry came in for the save and quickly got the first two batters out. He then gave up a double to Chase Utley that was about one foot away from being a home run. With Utley on first, Howry intentionally walked Ryan Howard. The next batter would have been Burrell, but he was lifted in the ninth for a pinch runner and So Taguchi took his place. Taguchi grounded out to end the game.
Besides the obvious pitching woes, the Cubs offense has been spotty at best. Lou addressed this after the game.
“We haven’t been consistent,” Piniella said. “We’ve had some good offensive days, and we’ve had other days where we haven’t done much. About the only thing I can do is start putting more speed into the lineup. When you don’t have much speed and you’re not hitting, you look lethargic on the field. The possibility there is to put as much speed as we can and force the action a little more. We’ve done that in a few games, but I’ve basically stayed in a set lineup. Outside of that, we just have to keep working.”
“You’ve got to go the other way with the ball a little more, and stay on it longer,” Piniella said. “With our team, I think patience is not our biggest strength. One thing I can do is play a quicker team and that’s in the back of my mind.”
There. Someone finally said it. The Cubs are not a patient team. You can just see it, especially against pitchers like Brett Myers the other night or Cole Hamels. The Cubs just hack away and don’t wait for the right pitch.
The Return Of Baker
Tomorrow I will give my two cents on the whole Dusty Baker saga. You all know where I stand on this. The Cubs have a tough series ahead with the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are coming off a tough sweep to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They will send Aaron Harang to pitch against Ryan Dempster. Tensions will be high and it will be interesting to see if the Baker factor will add some more fuel to the fire.