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!
After the Cubs suffered a bit of a let down on Thursday, they came right back to beat Ian Snell and the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2. Rich Hill got the first win for a lefty starter this season and the Cubs were able to do just enough to get past Ian Snell. Hill, who confidence was in the dumps, was able to give the Cubs five innings, giving up one run on three hits and three walks with four strikeouts.
“It was a start in the right direction for him,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “Like I told him, he needs to build on this now. He went out there and threw the ball. There were a couple rough spots, but it was a vast improvement. He threw the ball well today and let it go.”
It was another stomach turner for the Cubs. Hill walked the first batter he faced, Nate McLouth, on four straight pitches. Luckily he was able to calm down. The offense also struggled in the beginning of the game. The Cubs had runners in scoring postition in the first, second, and third innings and failed to score a run. The worst of these blown opportunities was in the bottom of the third. The Cubs were down 1-0 and had one out in the third when Ryan Theriot hit a triple. With D-Lee and A-Ram coming to the plate, it looked like the Cubs would be able to tie it, but Lee grounded out to the pitcher and Aramis flied out to right. It looked like it was going to be one of those days. But Fukudome led off the fourth inning with a triple. Mark DeRosa singled, tying the game, and then Geovany Soto hit a double, putting runners at second and third with no outs. Boy, when Soto is out of the lineup, it really hurts the Cubs. Reed Johnson hit an infield single, scoring DeRosa and giving the Cubs the lead. For the second day in a row, there was a mix up with the signals, and Rich Hill grounded into a fielders choice instead of bunting, but Eric Patterson hit a ground ball to short, allowing Soto to score and give the Cubs a 3-1 lead. That insurance run would be the difference in the game.
After Hill was pulled in the fifth, it was up to the bullpen to preserrve the win. Jon Lieber and Sean Marshall combined to work the sixth inning, giving up no runs. Then Carlos Marmol
came out to pitch the sixth and struck out the side. Then, Lou had him go back out in the eighth, and Marmol ran into some trouble. McLouth led off the inning with a solo home run, making it a one run game. He got the next two batters, Luis Rivas and Freddy Sanchez out, but then walked Jason Bay and gave up a single to Xavier Nady. With the winning run at second and two outs, Marmol got Adam LaRoche to strike out swinging. Kerry Wood came out and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to get a new winning streak started. Let’ see if the Cubs can beat Tom Gorzelanny for the second time this season. The Cubs will be sending Jason Marquis to the mound.
Two bits of Lou news that I thought was worth noting. First off, Lou will have Reed Johnson bat lead off. Good to see Lou is reading Crawly’s Cub Kingdom!! With Fontenot, Theriot, and Patterson not doing much at lead off, it will be nice to see if Johnson can set the table for the big boys. Johnson has six hits the last two games and is hitting .375 for the season.
Lou also stepped to the plate for Cubs fans after senile old fart Marty Brennaman ripped Cubs fans for being “the most obnoxious fans” for throwing a bunch of balls on the field after Dunn hit a homer the other day. Pinella told reporters
“Marty’s a Cincinnati guy, obviously he’s rooting for the Reds. But I don’t think our fans are obnoxious. They get into the ballgame, they enjoy coming out to a ballgame and that’s why they draw here the way they do. It’s a fun environment and they get into it.
“As far as winning the division — hey, I like Marty Brennaman, I really do, I was over there for three years — but he has nothing to do with the Cubs winning or losing, I can tell you that,” Piniella said.
“I don’t want to get into a war of words with him,” Chicago’s Mark DeRosa said. “I respect how he handles his profession, but I didn’t agree with what he said. I think he could’ve used different wording.
“They’re very passionate people and passionate fans,” DeRosa said. “You’re torn in situations like that [when they threw balls back] — you get a chuckle out of it, and at the same time, it wastes 10 minutes of your life. I don’t think he needed to go that far with the comments. Obviously, he has some deep-seated hatred for Chicago.”
There are probably tons of reasons that Brennaman has deep seated hatred towards Chicago. He probably is still bitter his son Thom (nice spelling Marty) was not being moved quicker up the ladder at WGN and that Harry Caray was pushing to get his grandon Chip into the booth. Marty was always jealous of Harry and his popularity.
Let’s go for two in a row tomorrow.