Chants of “Sweep,
sweep, sweep, sweep” could be heard on WGN Radio this afternoon, loud enough to
the point that it sounded like a home game.
From what I saw, heard and read, this was the atmosphere for all 4 games
at Wrigley North, aka Miller Park, where the Cubs put their road woes aside and
went into the land of Cheese to sweep the Brew Crew and open up a 4.5 game lead
in the Central. A few things stood out
from this series.
1. The Cubs offense showed up on the road.
At least 6
runs in every game and 31 in the 4 game series, numbers unheard of from this
Cubs team who had done next to nothing on the road to date (see previous
entry). In my mind, the key to this offensive
output was scoring first in every game.
Only in Game 1 when the Cubs trailed 3-2 for half an inning did they
ever play from behind. Insurance runs
are much easier to score than tying / go-ahead runs, and the Cubs piled on
plenty of them this week. The Cubs put
up 49 hits in the 4 game series, amazingly having their smallest output (9) in today’s
game where they scored the most runs (11).
many ways to define this word, but in terms of sports I like to keep it
simple. Things that don’t show up in the
box score. Things like Reed Johnson’s
slide (which forced the error that did show up the box score), Ryan Braun’s “dive”,
the fact that the Cubs got 7 hits on 17 pitches against Ben Sheets in the 6th
inning of Tuesday’s game, meaning there was no one ready in the Brewers’ pen
when Sheets should have been out of the game, and of course, the home
atmosphere on the road. Little things
lead to big innings, and the Cubs took advantage of everything handed to them
started off the series as if it were October, putting C.C. Sabathia and Ben
Sheets on the hill for games 1 and 2.
The Cubs offense was struggling, and with their road woes well
documented it seemed that a split was the best the Cubs could ask for. Not to take anything away from the offense,
but with the exception of some 9th inning lapses by the pen, the
Cubs staff was outstanding.
Ted Lilly –
6 IP, 3 ER, 4K
Zambrano – 8 IP, 0 ER, 9K
Dempster – 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K
Rich Harden –
7 IP, 1ER, 9K
28 IP, 5 ER,
31 K. You really can’t ask for much
4. Rich Harden
Yes I know I
just mentioned pitching but I want to give a special “shout out” to Rich. Since joining the Cubs on July 8th,
check out these stats: 24 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 39Ks, 1.11 ERA. Oh yeah, and a 1-1 record. Only on the Cubs. Fellow ex-A’s pitcher Chad Gaudin is 2-1 with
a 1.54 ERA since joining the Cubs while only pitching in 11 2/3 innings, so I
hope nobody is still calling him a “throw-in” to that deal.
However, one of the key factors that led to the outcome of this series occurred before the series even began. On Saturday July 26th, a Cubs extra inning loss coupled with the Brewers’ 9th win in their last 10 put the teams into a tie atop the Central Division standings. The next day, Milwaukee led 4-1 while the Cubs trailed 5-0 early in both games. If those outcomes had stood, the Brewers would have come into the series leading the division for the first time since sometime in May, while the Cubs would have lost 3 in a row at home for what I think would have been the first time all season. Houston’s 7-run 5th and Mike Fontenot’s 3-run double completely changed the momentum going into this huge series, and in this writer’s opinion, allowed the Cubs to tough out a big win in the opener on Monday.
article goes to press, the Cubs now have 4.5 games worth of breathing room in the
division. But don’t get too comfortable
Cubs fans, as we have 9 left against St. Louis (6 at home) and 6 left against
Milwaukee (3 at home). Those 15 games account
for 28% of the remaining games left on the schedule, so nothing is decided just
yet. Next up, the Jason Bay, Xavier
Nady, Damaso Marte-less Pittsburgh Pirates for 3 at Wrigley.
Approximately 48 hours ago, I wrote this in an entry in response to the C.C. Sabathia acquisition by the Brewers: “Plus, there are still 24 days left of the trading season, and Jim
Hendry will be working the phones trying to add another starter to the
Cubs rotation (Rich Harden perhaps).”
Well it certainly didn’t take 24 days, as Jim Hendry moved quickly to acquire the A’s right hander on Tuesday. Harden and righty Chad Gaudin head to Chicago while CubBlog favorites Sean Gallagher and Matt Murton head to Oakland along with Eric Patterson and minor league catching prospect Josh Donaldson.
The immediate reaction to this trade was “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!” After some consideration, however, my next reaction was that we just traded for Mark Prior v2. Unhittable when healthy, but unhealthy more often than not. Harden has already pitched more innings this year (77.0), than in 2006 and 2007 combined (72.1), and that includes a 3-week stint on the DL this year for shoulder problems. This of course only includes innings pitched in the majors, not in simulated games (a category in which Mark Prior is among the all time career leaders).
In my opinion, there are two ways to look at it.
1) The Brewers acquired the best available player with a package of prospects that the Cubs were unable to match. The Cubs went out and acquired the next best available player and paid a pretty good price.
2) The Cubs acquired a player in Harden who is one of the best, but has a very bad history of inability to stay healthy, and whose fastball has dropped in speed over his past few starts.
So look at it whichever way you choose, but if (and I did say if) the Cubs take this team into October, and Carlos Zambrano and a healthy Rich Harden are slated to start games 1, 2, 5 and 6 of a playoff series, is there anyone who would pick against them? I may be biased, but I know I wouldn’t.
Lost among the Harden hoopla is the acquisition of Chad Gaudin. Don’t call this guy a throw-in, as he will provide much needed long relief in place of Gallagher (or Marquis who refuses to accept a role in the pen). He has pitched very well in Oakland, has played for Lou briefly in Tampa, and will be a welcome addition to the Rajun Cajuns squad forming along with TheRiot and Fontenot. In all seriouness, his presence in the pen will give Marmol and Howry some additional rest, which may be the biggest key in the Cubs run towards the postseason.
When I first heard about this trade, my immediate reaction was “Oh crap”. The Brewers now have Ben Sheets and C.C. Sabathia at the top of their rotation, a potent offense, and 43 out of 74 remaining games against teams currently under .500. Then I read an article by Jayson Stark which contained 1 sentence putting everything into perspective. It read: “The Brewers may have leaped over the Cubs as The NL Team You’d Least
Want to Face in October, but I’m still taking the Cubs as the favorites
in this division.”
The Brewers are definitely the team you do not want to face in a short series, there is no arguing that fact. But Sabathia only makes the Brewers better 1 out of every 5 days (unless he becomes the next Carlos Zambrano and becomes an outstanding pinch hitter).
Say he makes 16 starts for the Brew Crew. The most wins he can bring to the team is 16, which yes, is a lot. But that assumes the Brewers win every time he takes the bump (and they have Eric Gagne in a shaky bullpen), which isn’t very realistic. In addition, he is taking the place of their 5th starter in the rotation. Assuming the Crew would have gone 8-8 in his 16 starts, in this case C.C. is only bringing a max of 8 wins to the table.
So yes, adding Sabathia makes the Brewers a much better team and drastically improves their chances of winning the Central and making a run at the World Series, but let’s not overblow the impact he will make. Plus, there are still 24 days left of the trading season, and Jim Hendry will be working the phones trying to add another starter to the Cubs rotation (Rich Harden perhaps).