Now I’m not the oldest of Cub fans, but in all my years as a Cubs fan I cannot remember a homestand of this length where the Cubs won them all. (Editor’s Note: It last happened in 1970). Coming off two tough extra inning losses the week before in Pittsburgh, the Cubs played well in sweeping the Dodgers and then took it to the reeling Rockies. Now they take their 7-game win streak with them to the West Coast for 3 against the Padres and 4 against those same Dogers. 23 of the Cubs’ next 32 games are on the road (although 3 of those are on the Southside), so this will be an important stretch for the team with the best record in baseball. Now I’m not trying to get ahead of myself, but the last time the Cubs had the best record in baseball on June 1st was the year 1908. Just makes me excited all over to think about that.
Today’s game saw Derrek Lee get his first full day off in 2008, and Micah Hoffpauir started in his place, both at 1st base and at the 3 spot in the order. I found it interesting that Lou didn’t take Lee’s absence as a chance to try a new lineup, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It was a close game all around, with the Cubs getting contributions from nearly every man on the roster in this one. As much as it pains me to say it, Jim Edmonds is improving at the plate, coming up with a big RBI double in the 4th and an even bigger bases loaded walk in the 5th. After loading the bases with none out, Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez struck out Fukudome and Soto, before issuing the run-scoring walk to Jimmy. Watching Kosuke and Geo strike out from up in Section 421 made me feel like I was watching the Cubs of old, but we were able to come through with 2 outs thanks to the good eye of Edmonds. And just for good measure, Soriano blasted a hanging Manny Corpas breaking ball onto Waveland to make sure the Cubs completed the sweep.
On the other side of the ball, Sean Gallagher appears to have sewn up the 5th spot in the rotation. He looked masterful at times, striking out 8 (including 4 in the first 2 innings), but was a bit wild at times, hitting 2 batters. He left after 5 2/3, and the bullpen shakily took it from there, with only an inherited run scoring off of Michael Wuertz in the 6th. KWood looked good in the 9th, and even though he got to a couple of 3-ball counts and nearly hit ANOTHER batter, he got the job done 1-2-3.
Yes the wind was blowing out, yes the opponent was the
injury-plagued Colorado Rockies, and yes, Manny Corpas is terrible right now,
but that was still one of the more amazing and improbable comebacks in recent
memory. While it seems obvious, it’s
important to remember that in order to come back from down 9-1; the Cubs still
had to score 9 runs. Scoring 9 runs in a
single game is difficult enough, and the Cubbies were able to do it in 2
innings. Amazingly, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan
Theriot, Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto were all out of the game by the time the
comeback started in the 6th inning.
The Cubs came through using contributions by Kosuke, Micah,
Blanco, DeRosa, and of course, the day after I thoroughly bash him, Jim
Edmonds. Kosuke and Jimmy hit back-to-back
HRs from in the 6th, Blanco took his turn with a HR in the 7th,
and following a 2-run double by Edmonds, DeRosa hit a lazy fly ball that the
20+ mph wind took into the 3rd row of the bleachers in left to put
the Cubs up for good. It is an extremely
comforting feeling to see the bench players come through in the clutch, as they
will be pinch hitting when it counts come September (and hopefully October).
Another important aspect of Friday’s game which should not
be lost among the comeback was the work of the Cubs bullpen. Ted Lilly was atrocious, and yes part of it
was due to the wind and close calls on the basepaths, but he made the bullpen
go to work early. Jon Lieber ate a bunch
of innings, Scott Eyre pitched to the most batters he could (1) and got the
win, Marmol was nasty (more on him shortly), and Kerry Wood overcame a leadoff
walk and a 3-0 count to the next batter to get out of the 9th
unscathed. One rally by the Rockies in
the 7th, 8th, or 9th would have made the
incredible comeback all for nothing, and the Cubs relievers did an outstanding
job of holding them down, especially considering the conditions.
Back to Marmol. He
needed just 10 pitches to strike out the
side in the 8th inning on Friday. The first pitch he threw was a ball, and then
came 9 straight strikes, only 1 of which was a foul ball. I don’t think that Seth Smith ever got the
bat off his shoulders while watching 3 sliders in a row buckle his knees. A team can be extremely susceptible to giving up a big
inning coming off one their own, and Marmol made sure there was no
chance of that occurring. I don’t think
it’s a stretch to say that he is one of the best pitchers in the game right
now. To put his dominance into numbers,
righties are batting just .088 against him this year. .088!!!
There are some who might think that it would be wise to imitate what the
Yankees are doing with Joba Chamberlain, and convert Marmol into a starter, and
there are some who believe he should be closing instead of Wood. Yes he would be good in either of those
spots, but there is no way the Cubs would have the best record in baseball if
it wasn’t for Marmol’s flexibility in the bullpen. He can come in to start an inning or in the
middle, he can come in with the bases empty or loaded, and he can pitch to both
righties and lefties. There aren’t many
other relievers in the game who can do that with the success rate that Marmol
does. And as I often say, “It doesn’t matter
who closes if you can’t get him the ball in the 9th with the
lead”. Kerry has had a few struggles in
the 9th (all the HBPs jump to mind), but he has still nailed down 13
saves in 17 attempts, and opponents (both righties and lefties) are batting
.190 against him, which is not too shabby.
Marmol in the 8th and Woody in the 9th is a great