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.
The Cubs don’t have to convince the Mets that they are for real, not after the Cubs put another beat down on them, this time 8-1. The Mets have got to be thankful this was only a two game series. The Cubs hit a combined 15 runs off the NY, while the Mets could only manage two meager runs. Not only that, but the Cubs did it in front of a nation wide audience, and now the Cubs are beginning to open a lot of people’s eyes. Lou is trying to keep Cubs fans from going too crazy;
“This is a long season,” Piniella said. “Let’s not get all crazy about this thing. Let’s just stay cautionary and let’s just keep playing good baseball, that’s all.”
Sorry Lou, but the Cubs haven’t started out this good since 1975. Heck, old Crawly still wasn’t even born yet! Not only that, but the Cubs are playing great baseball. Did you realize that the Cubs are in the top five of every important hitting category? They are in the top five in average, runs, onbase percentage, slugging, on base plus slugging, and stolen bases. Great defense, smart baserunning, high on base percentage, cluch hits, and hopefully the pitching is starting to come around. Ted Lilly finally got his first win of the season, and will hopefully
pitch like the Lilly we saw last season. Lilly went six innings, giving up only four hits and one run. The real test in this game came in the fourth inning. For whatever reason, Lilly has had trouble this season in the fourth inning, but today he overcame that. The Cubs blew a bases loaded no outs oppotunity in the second, when Ronnie Cedeno struck out and Henry Blanco hit into a double play. Then it was the Mets’ turn. In the top of the fourth, Lilly had a no hitter going. He got the first batter, Jose Reyes, to strike out. Then, former Cubs Angel Pagan hit a double to break up the no no. Lily walked the next two batters, David Wright and Carlos Beltran, to load them up with only one out. Lilly kept his composure and was able to get Carlos Delgado and Dameon Easley to pop out, ending the threat.
The Cubs offense came roaring back in the bottom of the fourth. After Ramriez flied out to start the inning, Fukudome hit a single to right. Mark DeRosa hit a fly ball for the second out, but Ronnie Cedeno, fresh off the heroics from Monday nights game, hit a double, and Fukudome flew around the bases to score. Is Fukudome not the most fun player to watch? The Mets intentionally walked Henry Blanco to get to the pitcher, Ted Lilly. With runners at first and second and two outs, Lilly hit a soft liner in between the pitcher and first base, and Delgado and pitcher Luis Figueroa thought the other would get it and Lilly was safe, loading the bases. That’s when Reed Johnson singled, scoring Cedeno and Blanco and making it a 3-0 game.
Lilly was able to work out of another jam in the sixth. After getting Wright to ground out, Lilly walked Beltran and gave up a single to Delgado. Easley singled to the load the bases with one out. Lou kept his faith in Lilly, and Ted got Brady Clark to ground out for the second out, but Beltra n scored, making it 3-1 with runners at first and second and two outs. Lilly got Raul Casanove to ground out to end the inning. Bob Howry came in to relieve Lilly and worked a quick 1-2-3 inning in the seventh. In the bottom of the inning, Aramis greeted Mets reliever Joe Smith with a single and tKoske followed that up with a double, putting runners at second and third with no outs. DeRosa singled,scoring Ramirez and giving the Cubs a 4-1 lead. The Cubs were able to load the bases, but couldn’t score anymore runs.
Then in the bottom of the eighth, it was time for more Ronnie Cedeno heroics. With Jorge Sosa pitching, Felix Pie and Derek Lee hit back to back singles. Aramis flied out, but Fukudome walked to load the bases. It looked like the Cubs would miss another opportunity when DeRosa hit a ball to shortstop Jose Reyes for an easy double play ball to end the inning, but Reyes had a brainfart and threw the ball home for the foce out. Insteasd of an inning ending double play, Ronnie Cedeno came to the plate and hit a grand slam, giving the Cubs an 8-1 lead, sealing the win for the Cubs. Cedeno had a career high five RBI’s.
Playing the Hot Hand
It’s a good problem to have, but I wonder how Lou manages the lineup. The team has played the last two days without Theriot, and the Cubs have really gotten on a role after the Soriano injury. Since then, Reed Johnson has been incredible leading off and Cendeno look like an entirely different player. Cedeno was 10-for-18 (.556) on the homestand with 10 RBIs, while Johnson was 11-for-28 (.393) with four RBIs. Johnson is the prototypical lead off hitter the Cubs have been looking for since Kenny Lofton in 2003. He works the count, takes pitches, and has had his fair share of cluch hits. He seems to be full of hustle and has a high baseball IQ.
“He’s a pesky hitter who works the count, puts the ball in play,” Piniella said. “Occasionally he’ll bunt for a base hit. He sets the tone.”
The Cubs actually lead the NL in on base percentage. Kosuke Fukudome leads all Cubs regulars with a .442 OBP going into Monday’s game against the Mets, followed by Geovany Soto (.437), Mark DeRosa (.425), Derrek Lee (.419), Reed Johnson (.418) and Ryan Theriot (.408). The Cubs are wearing down pitchers, getting men on base, and now those solo home runs are becoming 2 or 3 run homers. Even grand slams. With all these guys getting on base, they are putting more pressure on the pitchers and getting better pitches to hit. Just to let you know, the last time the Cubs led the league in on base percentage-1945.
Now Pinella will have to face a bunch of questions when Soriano gets closer to being off the DL on May 1, one week from Tuesday. Ryan Theriot, before the back spasms was also doing a great job. So what does Lou do? What would you do? Nice to have these problems and nice to still be in first place. Now the Cubs try to become the second team in MLB history to get 10,000 wins. Let’s go get’ em in Colorado. Rich Hill takes on Franklin Morales in game 1.
A lot of people are wondering if the Cubs are real or not. A lot of doubters point to the fact that a lot of the Cubs victories have come against some bad teams. But on Monday night, the Cubs faced the New York Mets, everyone’s pick to win the east after signing Santana, on ESPN. It was a matchup between Carlos Zambrano and John Maine under the lights at Wrigley. Man, if you saw it on a nice high def TV, Wrigley Field looked just gorgeous. The crowd at Wrigley got to witness a great game, as it was a nail biter all the way until the seventh inning, when the Cubs busted it open to take the first game of the two game series 7-1. It’s games like these that make you feel like this may be a magical season at Wrigley.
As expected, it started out as a pitchers dual. Zambrano was really on tonight, Big Z gave up only five hits, walked two and struck out four over seven innings. The defense also came up big, turning four double plays. The Cubs were able to get to Maine in the bottom of the fourth, when Derek Lee led off the inning with a single. That’s when Aramis Ramirez hit a home run to tie the game. Ramirez has now homered in cosecutive games and it looks like he’s heating up. In the top of the sixth, Z ran into a little trouble. Endy Chavez started out the inning with a double that just missed being a home run. John Maine was up next, and bunted the ball right in front of home plate. Soto tried to throw out the lead runner at third, but Chavez got a good jump and everyone was safe. With runners at first and third, Jose Reyes hit into a double play, scoring Chavez and cutting the Cubs lead in half. With the double play, it looked like the inning was done, but Luiis Castillo hit an infield single and David Wright drew a walk. That brought up Carlos Beltran with the tying run at second. Z go Beltran to fly out to left to end the threat.
Busting it Open
With the Cubs leading 2-1, Carlos Marmol took the mound in the eighth inning. He made quick work of the Mets, getting them out in order. Marmol made veteran pinch hitter Marlon Byrd look goofy on a knee buckling breaking ball. With Kerry Wood warming up in the bullpen, the Cubs were looking to add some insurance runs. The inning started out well, with Derek Lee reaching on an error by the shortstop Jose Reyes. Relief pitcher Aaron Heilman hit Aramis, putting runners at first and second. Then the place went nuts, chanting Fukudome’s name, and he didn’t disappoint. Fukudome fought off pitch after pitch before slapping a single to left field to load the bases with no outs. But then it started to happen. Mark DeRosa had a horrible at bat, striking out for the first out. Than Geovany Soto popped out for the second out. It looked like the typical Cubs, loading up the bases and then letting the pitcher off the hook, swinging momentum back to the opposing team. Not only that, but Ronnie Cedeno, who was a late game addition after Theriot couldn’t play with back spasms, was up to bat. Cedeno was 0-3 at that point, reaching base on an error by David Wright. Down quickly in the count, it looked like the Cubs would spoil the opportunity, but then Cedeno hit a ball up the middle to drive in Lee and Ramirez and give the Cubs a 4-1 lead. After that, Heilman was pulled and Jorge Sosa came into the game. Lou brought in Pie to pinch hit for Marmol, and Pie jacked one to right, giving the Cubs a 7-1 lead. Pie’s reaction was priceless. Wood put ’em away 1-2-3 and the Cubs put on a dazzling display of ptching, defense, and timely hitting.
Is this team for real? I don’t know. I keep staring at stats and can’t believe how well the Cubs are doing offensively, especially when it comes to seeing pitches and taking walks. The soft underbelly of most teams is middle relieff. Have the pitcher throw a high number of pitches, get him out of the game by the fifth or sixth inning, and go to town on the stiffs that most teams have in their bullpen. I just though that Monday nights win against the Mets had one of those magical feelings at Wrigley, the kind that really get Cubs fans excited and make the doubters take notice. After struggling so bad in April last season, this is the kind of start Lou was looking for. The Cubs play game two of the series at 1:20 tomorrow, with Ted Lilly taking on Nelson Figueroa. Lilly wants to contribute in the worst possible way, and how nice would it be to see Ted get his first W tommorrow. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that Ted can finally get it going.