Remember mid-April, how everything was so perfect? Every break went our way and we could do no wrong. Not any more, as the Cubs continue to slide, losing to the Reds 5-3 on Monday night. How many ways can the Cubs find to lose a game? Here’s one for you. The Cubs pitchers did not give up a single earned run, but still lost the game. The offense has continued to struggle, especially with the absence of Aramis Ramirez, who had to cut his batting practice short because of the pain he still feels in his wrist. The defense really failed the Cubs, as errors led to all 5 runs.
Nearly every break went against the Cubs, starting with the first inning. After getting Ryan Freel to strike out to start the game, Ryan Dempster gave up an infield single to Ken Griffey Jr. Then Brandon Phillips got an infield single. Joey Votto hit a ball to Mike Theriot that should have ended the inning, but as he was turning to make the double play, the ball flew out of his glove and everyone was safe, loading the bases with one out. Dempster then walked Edwin Encarnacion to give the Reds a 1-0 lead Dempster got Adam Dunn to strike out, but with two outs, Jeff Keppinger hit a broken bat, seeing eye single that went between three Cubs, and gave the Reds a 3-0 lead. Lou must have been reading this blog, because he finally moved Soto to the fifth spot, before Mark DeRosa. With Ramirez out, Fukudome hit fourth and Soto hit fifth. Soto responded by going three for three with a solo home run in the second to trim the lead to 3-1. Unfourtunately, another error would cost the Cubs another two runs. With two outs in the third, Encarnacion hit a ball to DeRosa that should have ended the inning, but he couldn’t make the play. The next batter, Dunn, hit a ball that still hasn’t landed and the Cubs were down 5-1.
As usual, the Cubs fought back, chipping away at the Red’s lead. But the Cubs continued to blow chances. After Felix Pie walked in the fifth, Ryan Dempster bunted into a double play. With two outs, Soriano hit a single. Ryan Theriot doubled, making it 5-2 Cubs. Derek Lee singled, scoring Theriot and the Cubs had a nice little rally going. Unfortunately, Fukudome had a bad game and flied out to right to end the inning. Fukudome was 0-4, striking out twice. Mark DeRosa was even worse, going 0-3, striking out all three times, and leaving three runners on base. His average is now down to .259.
The dagger to the heart of Cubs fans came in the ninth. With big free agent acquisition Francisco Cordero on the mound, the Cubs got back to back singles by Fontenot and Pie. Dary Ward lined out on an at’em ball. He hit the ball hard, but right at Corey Patterson. Miraculously, Soriano walked, loading the bases with one out. But then, a slider got away from the catcher Paul Bako, and Fontenot tried to score but was easily thrown out. With two outs, Theriot walked, but Derek Lee grounded out to first to end the game.
Now the Cubs are down 1-0, and they face two of the best Reds pitchers in Aaron Harang and Edison Volquez. The Reds had lost five in a row and were reeling. This win took a lot of weight off their shoulders and you can be sure the Reds will be ready to play tomorrow. Our stopper, Carlos Zambrano will be pitching tomorrow, and all the pressure is on him to deliver, and Carlos always struggles against the Reds, especially Adam Dunn. Luckily, the Cubs are not to far out of first, but if this gets much worse, we may need to hit the panic button, The Cubs have to now win the next to games to take the series. If they don’t that will be four series losses in a row, and they will then face the best team in baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks, at home this weekend. When the 2008 Cubs schedule came out, I wrote in previous posts that the Cubs had to do well during the mid April to mid May stretch, but so far they have failed miserably. All we can do is hope the Cubs get going soon.
Go Cubs! (please)
As 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
record-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
the 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
the 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.
“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!
The Cubs bats greeted Dusty Baker and his slumping Reds by breaking out their whooping sticks. Even before the first pitch, Cubs fans were nervous. Aaron Harang, who always pitches well against the Cubs, was on the mound and we had our number 3 starter, Ryan Dempster going. Then, in the first inning, Alfonso Soriano does his little hop to catch a fly ball and injures his calf. He had to have Ryan Theriot on the field. Soriano never gets injured his whole career, then he comes to the Cubs and has three leg injuries in less than a year and a half. 136 million dollars down the toilet. Mike Fontenot came in to lead off the game and Mark DeRosa moved from second to left.
Things got worst in the top of the second when Dempster walked the first two guys he
faced. With no outs and runners at first and second, Edwin Encarnacion hit a ball to left to drive in Brandon Phillips. With runners still at first and second, Dempster got Joy Votto to strike out, Paul Bako to fly out, and Harang to ground out. The Cubs were able to strike back in the bottom of the second when Fukudome led off the inning with a single. Mark DeRosa, who always kills the Reds, crushed a home run to left center to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. The good times didn’t last though, as Jeff Keppinger singled and Ken Griffey Jr hit his 595th home run, putting the Reds back ahead 4-3. Luckily, Dempster was able to stay out of trouble for a while.
In the bottom of the fifth, Dempster hit a fly ball to center for the first out. Mike Fontenot then hit a double and his canjun twin, Ryan Theriot, walked. Wow, how nice is it to have table setters. Ask Derek Lee, as he crushed a hanging slider to give the Cubs a 6-4 lead. After the home run, Theriot and Fontenot, all 5’10 of them, waited for Derek Lee at home plate. Lee looked like Willy Wonka and Theriot and Fontenot looked like oompa loompas. The great thing is that this is Lee’s fifth home run. Lee didn’t have five home runs until June 1st last year. He already has that in two weeks. The combination of Lee, Theriot and Fontenot also was key in the top of the seventh, this time for their defense.
In the top of the seventh, Dempster was starting to run out of gas. Bako started out the inning with a single, then pinch hitter Scott Hatteberg drew a walk, putting runners at first and second with no outs. That was all for Dempster, who managed to scatter five hits and walked five over six-plus innings, striking out three. Out of the bullpen came Carlos Marmol to
face former Cub Corey Patterson. With runners at first and second, Pattesron bunted hard back to Marmol, who made an ill advised throw to second. Everyone was safe and the base were loaded with nobody out, going into the heart of the Reds order. The next batter, Jeff Keppinger, hit a ball that should have gone to centerfield to tie the game, but Mighty Mike Fontenot made an amazing diving stab, and flipped the ball from his glove to Theriot. They only got one out, and the Reds scored on the fielder’s choice to make it 5-4, but that play changed the momentum of the inning. Marmol got the next batter, Griffey Jr, to ground into a 3-6-3 double play, Lee to Theriot, back to Lee. It was amazing and the crowd went nuts. The Cubs never looked back, with Ramirez, DeRosa, and Theriot all driving in runs. Theriot hit a two run homer. Michael Wuertz struggled again out of the pen, but Wood closed it out for a 9-5 win.
Look, I’m not stupid. Even though Soriano is struggling, the Cubs are still a better team when he’s healthy, but his injury may show the importance of DeRosa and the need to upgrade at second base. DeRosa filled in nicely for Soriano, and played left field well. He is perfect to have when someone gets injured or needs a day off. With Fontenot at second, the Cubs were a much better defensive team. If DeRosa was at second in the top of the seventh, he doesn’t come close to that ball Keppinger hits, two runs score, and there would still be no outs. You need to be tight defensively up the middle, and that’s what Fontenot brings. He also has a great swing and would be a nice number two hitter. Now Fontenot started out hot when Aramis went down last season and DeRosa moved to thrid. He then cooled off. No one know how long Soriano is out, but it will be interesting to see if Fontenot can cut it offensively in the big leagues. He is also another left handed bat.
Tonight also proves why Marmol should not be the closer. Lou loves to use Marmol when the game is on the line. He was the best when it came to stranding inherited runners last season, and he is keeping runners from scoing this season. Without Marmol, it doesn’t matter who your closer is because you won’t have the lead in many games. Marmol puts out a lot of fires for Lou and there is no one else who could fill that role.
Beside Wuertz’s poor outing, the other negative of this game was Felix Pie. He was bad. Read bad. Not even close. On a day when every single batter got a hit, including pinch hitter Reed Johnson and Ryan Dempster, Pie was 0-4. Not only that, it was an ugly 0-4, with three strike outs and four men left on base. I wonder if Corey Patterson looked into the hometeam dugout and saw himself when he was a young ballplayer. I hope they can fix Felix’ swing, or Pie may end up like Patterson, a journeyman centerfielder.
Hopefully the Cubs can take the second game of the series. On paper, it looks like we have the advantage,with Zambrano going against Josh Fogg. Fogg has never impressed me, so let’s see how the Cubs’ lineup looks tomorrow. Let’s hope the bats keep cooking and the Cubs keep winning.