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!
“This is a long season. 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.”
But how could we not get crazy. We swept the PIrates, We pounded the Mets, we got win number 10,000 in Colorado, we were winning 1-run games, we were blowing teams out, we were drawing walks, hitting in the clutch, stealing, hit and runs, we were on fire. Even Ronnie Cedeno told reporters that the Cubs were thinking about the World Series!!! How could we not go crazy??!!
But no, Lou was right. After dropping two out of three against the lowly Nationals, we are r
eminded that the Cubs are still the Cubs, and we still have a long way to go. The Cubs really needed Sunday’s win, but fell short and ended up with a 2-3 record on this last road trip. Ted Lilly had another decent start, striking out seven, and giving up only two runs on four hits and two walks over six innings. He had one bad inning, the second, where he gave up back to back RBI singles to Willy Mo Pena and Will Nieves with two outs, scoring two runs for Washington. Lilly and the bullpen only gave up one hit after the second inning, but that still wasn’t good enough to win.
Washington’s starter, John Lannan, pitched seven innings, giving up four hits, four walks, three strikeouts, and zero runs. The Cubs had Lannan on the ropes a few times, but they could not get the clutch hit again. Lannan had a no hitter going untl the fifth inning until Ronnie Cedeno and Henry Blanco hit back to back singles. Cedeno stole third and Blanco advance from second when Lilly missed a bunt, but Lilly struck out, leaving runners at second and third with one out for the top of the lineup. Reed Johnson made a great play to beat out an infield single, loading the bases up for Ryan Theriot with one out, but Theriot hit into a 6-4-3 double playing, ending the threat. The Cubs had another chance to put some runs on the board in the top of the sixth, but came away empty handed. Lee led off with a walk, but Ramirez hit into a double play ball, but Aramis hustled and the Nats only got one. I have seen Aramis hustling more this first month of the season than I have since he got here in 2003. You know the Nats didn’t rush the play because they thought Ramirez wouldn’t hustle, but he beat it out. Fukudome hit a ball that Willy Mo Pena misjudged, putting runners at second and third with only one out. Then, DeRosa grounded out to the pitcher and Cedeno grounded out to second, ending the threat. The Cubs never came close again.
If the Cubs win 2 ou
t of 3, we would have been feeling could. If the Cubs would have swept the Nats, like we could have, we would have been going nuts, but now we come home with our tails between our legs. A mighty mighty Milwaukee team is coming to town Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, followed by a three game set with the surprising Cardinals, who are now 1/2 a game back of the Cubs for first place. The Brewers have much more thump then the Nationals, and their pitching is just as good. The Brewers were able to take the opening series with the Cubs, 2-1. Can the Cubs bounce back? Can they make believers of us again? We’ll find out when Jason Marquis takes the mound against Milwaukee ace Ben Sheets, who missed his last start because of tricep tightness. Zambrano faces Jeff Suppan in the second game, and Yyovani Gallardo, who missed the opening series, will face Ryan Dempster. This is not going to be easy folks, so hold on to your hats.
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.
Uggh Just when the Cubs were looking great, they take a step back. Look, I know its hard to sweep any major league team, and I know that you can’t win’em all. It’s just the way we lost this game that was irritating. It was just a bunch of bad baseball, and Ted Lilly is not making Cubs fans any less nervous. After being a hero the other night, Mike Fontenot also stunk it up. Even the coaching was a mess. All in all, a pretty crummy day.
All though the box score show that Lilly had a bad game, six hits, five runs, and three walks in six innings, he at least looked better than he did in last Saturday’s loss to the Phillies. The walks really hurt him and Joey Votto really hurt him. Like last Saturday, Lilly was cruising
through the first three innings, giving up only one walk and one hit. And like last Saturday, the fourth inning killed him. He got Griffey to strikeout to lead off the inning, but then walked Adam Dunn, gave up a single to Jeff Keppinger, and then walked Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases. Votto than doubled, clearing the bases. With the Cubs still in the game down only 3-1, Lilly got Keppinger to ground out to lead off the sixth. Encarnacion doubled, and than Votto hit a home run to give the Red a 5-1 lead. The scary thing is that it doesn’t seem like Lilly has his velocity where it needs to be. He’s not going to get to many major league hitters out with an 86 mile per hour fastball out.
It’s baffling,” he said. “My confidence is still there, for the most part. Obviously I’m not as confident as if I were 4-0, but I still feel good about what I’m capable of doing. I’m just losing patience as far as wanting to give us a solid outing and a chance to win. I certainly owe that to my teammates.”
Not like the offense was much better. After getting so many clutch hits the last few days, the Cubs fell short on Thursday. The Cubs went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Fontenot, Fukudome, and Henry Blanco all struggled today and left way too many men on
base. Fontenot went 0-5, leaving seven men on base. Fukudome went 0-4, leaving 4 men on base. Blanco was 1-4, leaving seven men on base. Theriot and Lee were’nt much better, both going 1-5. It was the first time the Cubs saw Reds pitcher Edison Volquez, but they also didn’t hit the Reds’ bullpen either. There were tons of missed opportunities to blow the game open and shift momentum. The Cubs had the bases loaded and only one out in the bottom of the second, when Henry Blanco struck out. Lilly was up next and drew a walk, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Fontenot grounded out to end the inning. In the third inning, Theriot singled to lead off the inning, but that vanished when Volquez struck out Lee and Theriot was caught stealing. In the fourth inning, DeRosa walked and Reed Johnson singled, putting runner at first and second with no outs. For some reason, Henry Blanco, batting in front of the pitcher Lilly, struck out attempting to bunt.
I don’t know what happened there,” Piniella said. “We never had the bunt sign on the whole at-bat. I thought Henry might be trying to leg out a bunt single or something. I don’t know exactly what happened. Obviously it was just a mix-up in signs.”
“We miscommunicated on the first pitch,”Third base coach Mike Quade said. “Because of our series of signs, that messed up the rest of the entire at-bat. Whether the bunt was on, the bunt wasn’t on. Whether we were playing hit-and-run, we weren’t playing hit-and-run. Henry is one of the most reliable guys on this club. He doesn’t miss signs. He gets everything. He has executed the hit-and-run, the squeeze, all of that.”
With the Cubs only down 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Fukudome grounded out. DeRosa singled and Johnson doubled, putting runners at second and third with one out. Blanco reached on an infield single, making it 5-3, but Johnson couldn’t advance to third. With runners still at first and second and only one out, pinch hitter Daryl Ward flied out and Fontenot grounded out to end the threat.
Then, in the top of the seventh, the defense fell apart. Jon Lieber came in and Norris Hopper to ground out to Theriot, but Ryan booted the ball and Hopper reached on the error. Then, Ryan Freel bunted to move Hopper to second, but with Lieber and Lee playing the bunt, Fontenot forgot to cover first and everyone was safe. With the wind blowing to right center, Ken Griffey Jr hit home run number 596, making it 8-2 and ending any chances for the sweep.
Fontenot has been struggling since being moved to the leadoff spot after Soriano’s injury, going 2-for-15. I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if Reed Johnson hit lead off and Theriot or Fukudome hitting second. I guess there is no need to panic since it was only one game. What is making me panic is that Rich Hill will be making the next start for the Cubs as they open the next series against the Pirates and Ian Snell, who is having a terriffic season so far. You know the Pirates want to kick some Cubbie butt after we swept them at home. We missed Snell last time too.
Marty Brennaman went off on Cubs fans after the ball throwing incident Wednesday night. After Adam Dunn hit a homer, people started throwing balls onto the field. I wasn’t happy that Cubs fans did it, but Brennaman took it a step too far. Brennaman said ;
“This is the kind of thing that makes you want to see this Cubs team lose. Among all baseball fans….far and away the most obnoxious fans in baseball in this league are those that follow this team right here.
That is so typical of Chicago Cubs fans (throwing the balls onto the field)
You simply root against them. I’ve said all winter, they talk about this team winning the division and my comment is they won’t win because at the end of the day, they are still the Chicago Cubs and they will figure out a way to screw this whole thing up.”
Screw you Brennaman and the high horse you rode in on. You are now considered an enemy of Cubs fans everywhere. I agree with you that it was stupid of those fans to throw the balls on the field, but you had no right to blast all Cubs fans. This is not over old man. I look forward to the next Cubs Reds game I go to so I can heckle you in the booth. Your cranky old *** is not welcomed at Wrigley anymore and remember, Cubs fans have a long memory. Maybe if the Reds knew how to draw fans, you might realize that there are always a few bad apples in the bunch . Cubs fans in general, are smart, caring, and loyal fans.You sound just as idiotic as your smug, idiotic buddy Joe Morgan. This isn’t over Brennaman, not by a long shot.