Tagged: Mark DeRosa

Déjà Vu: A Dodgers Grand Slam Spells the End for the Cubs

While watching the Cubs 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday night, I
had an eerie feeling of déjà vu.  While it was in a different city,
with a different player at the plate and a different player on the
hill, I felt I was watching the exact same scenario unfold.

And that'll do it...

And that’ll do it…

A grand slam by the Dodgers to all but end the Cubs’ chances of a deep playoff run.

In 2008, it came in Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field.  The Cubs
led 2-0 thanks to second inning Mark DeRosa home run when the Dodgers
came to bat in the fifth inning.  Ryan Dempster proceeded to walk the
bases loaded (his fifth, sixth and seventh walks of the game), before
giving up a granny to James Loney on a 1-2 pitch.

Just like that, the energy was sucked out of Wrigley Field, and even
though the Cubs were only trailing by two runs, you could read the same
expression on everyone’s faces: “Not again.”  The Cubs lost that game
7-2 as well, never led the rest of the series, and were swept out of
the playoffs for the second straight season.

Fast forward back to Thursday night.  The
Cubs, who just two weeks ago were tied for first place in the NL
Central, have taken a nose dive and fallen to six games out of first
place.  They enter a crucial four-game series with the Dodgers, who
their rival Cardinals have just beaten two of three times.

With the score tied at 2-2, the Cubs’ Angel Guzman allows base hits
to the first two batters, and after a sacrifice, James Loney is
intentionally walked to face Russell Martin.  One pitch, and déjà Grand
Slam.

Couple the Cubs loss with a Cardinals win in St. Louis and the Cubs
are now seven games back in the division with just 43 games left to
play.  Their once precious lead in the loss column is now a five game
deficit, and the Cubs and Cardinals only have three games remaining on
the slate, and that series is in St. Louis.  And don’t even think about
the Wild Card, as the Cubs trail the Rockies by six games with San
Francisco, Atlanta and Florida all in front of them too.

Despite the horrific play in Colorado, the destruction by
Philadelphia and even losing two of three to the lowly Padres,
including another Kevin Gregg masterpiece, I was still looking for ways
the Cubs could make a comeback.  After Thursday night, the parallels
are just too similar to last season, so I think it’s time to be
realistic rather than optimistic.

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Breaking Down the NL Central…It’s a Two Horse Race

Since the beginning of the season, the NL Central has been the
tightest overall division race in all of baseball.  Currently, four
teams are within five games of first place, and as recently as June 28th, all six teams were within that same striking distance of the division title.

With approximately two months two go in the regular season, we are
not much closer now to determining the division winner than we were
back in April.   As a Cubs fan, I want to know whether I should be
setting myself up for a September or October disappointment this
season, so I decided took a closer look at the past performance and
remaining schedules of each team in the NL Central to try and predict a
winner.

Below is a quick snapshot of each team in order of current standings:

Chicago Cubs (57-49)

56 Games Remaining (29 Home, 27 Road)

.485 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

The first advantage the Cubs have is the lead in the loss column. 
With the most games remaining of anyone in the division (thanks to
rainouts), the Cubs’ destiny is in their own hands.

The Cubs will play more than half of their remaining games against
teams under the .500 mark, with 30 games coming against teams currently
with losing records.  Half of those games are against divisional
opponents, as the Cubs face Houston and Cincinnati for one more series
apiece, and three more series against last place Pittsburgh.  These are
the games the Cubs must win to have a chance.

Divisional games will play an important part in the Cubs’ quest to
win the Central, as they play 16 of their 25 remaining divisional games
in a row from September 7th to September 23rd, including six straight road games against St. Louis and Milwaukee to close out the stretch.

Based on their current home and road winning percentages, the Cubs
are predicted to finish the year at 87-75.  In order to reach this
number or improve on it, the Cubs will need to win some series on the
road, as they are just 24-30 away from Wrigley Field this year.  Road
matchups against Colorado, LA Dodgers, NY Mets, and San Francisco will
be crucial in the Cubs’ quest for the crown.

St. Louis Cardinals (59-51)

52 Games Remaining (27 Home, 25 Road)

.472 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

While the Cubs may have more games remaining, the Cardinals have a
more favorable schedule down the stretch.  The Cards have 30 of their
final 52 games against divisional opponents, with six games each
against Houston, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  Combine these with seven
games against San Diego and three against bottom of the barrel
Washington, that makes for a division-low .472 opponent winning
percentage.

The Cardinals’ additions in June and July of Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo
and Matt Holliday have made their offense a formidable foe to go along
with their strong starting pitching.  The Cards have a run differential
of +31 so far this year, which should only improve as a result of their
additions.  Look for this to come into play against strong pitching
teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Braves, Rockies and Marlins.

The final factor that could propel the Cards above their current
pace of 87-75 is their .500 record on the road.  St. Louis is the only
team in the NL Central with a .500 or better record away from home this
season, and they will need to maintain this in the final weeks of the
season as they embark on a nine-game trip to Houston, Colorado and
Cincinnati.

Milwaukee Brewers (54-54) – 4.0 GB

54 Games Remaining (28 Home, 26 Road)

.488 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

The Brewers likely had higher expectations than .500 at this point
in the season, but there is still plenty of time to make a run at the
postseason.  The Brewers can be in control of their own destiny as a
result of their remaining schedule against the division.

The Brewers face NL Central opponents 34 more times, but more
importantly 16 of those games are against the first-place Cubs and
Cardinals (7 and 9 remaining respectively).  These 16 games come in the
Brewers’ final 32 of the season in September and October, culminating
with a 3-game series in St. Louis over the final weekend of the season

In order for these games to matter, however, the Brewers need to
improve upon their current position of four games back during the month
of August.  The Brew Crew have 22 straight games against Sub-.500 teams
between now and August 30th, including 12 of those at Miller Park.

While all these schedule advantages are helpful to Milwaukee, none
of it will matter if they don’t get their pitching in order.  The
Brewers lead the Central with 536 runs allowed, and are second to last
in the NL with a 4.82 team ERA.  Without an improvement in their
pitching staff, the Brewers might be sitting at home in October.

Houston Astros (53-55) – 5.0 GB

54 Games Remaining (25 Home, 29 Road)

.500 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

The Astros, despite a rash of recent injuries to their club, are
just five games out of first place and two games under .500. 
Unfortunately for Houston fans, their remaining schedule doesn’t do
them many favors.

The ‘Stros will play just one-third (18) of their remaining 54 games
against sub-.500 teams, half of those being Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. 
In addition, of their 27 remaining divisional games, only nine come
against first-place Chicago and St. Louis combined, meaning Houston
will need some help to gain ground in the Central.

The other obstacle the Astros face is having more road games left
than home games, something none of the top three teams in the division
need to deal with.  The Astros are just 24-28 away from Minute Maid
Park, and spend their final seven games of the season on the road in
Philadelphia and New York.

While the Astros have been a notorious second-half team this decade,
it doesn’t seem like they will be able to make another impressive run
to the postseason in 2009.

Cincinnati Reds (46-61) – 11.5 GB

55 Games Remaining (27 Home, 28 Road)

.490 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

This is where we reach the teams without much of a playoff chance. 
The Reds looked like they might be for real this year, as they were
just 1.5 games out of first place as late as June 10th.  Then injuries struck, the most brutal to starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, who will miss 12 months with Tommy John surgery.

The Reds would need a very favorable schedule to have a chance at
the postseason, and it just isn’t there.  Only 23 of their remaining 55
games are against sub-.500 teams, and more than half of their remaining
games are on the road.  Cincy will have a chance to play spoiler, as
they have at least one series left with each of the top four teams in
the division.

Pittsburgh Pirates (45-63) – 13.0 GB

54 Games Remaining (29 Home, 25 Road)

.508 Remaining Opponent Win Pct

Another season, another losing record for the Pirates.  The Bucs
appear to be rebuilding yet again after gutting their team at the trade
deadline.  With 30 of their remaining 54 games against teams above
.500, it would appear that a 13 game deficit is too much for the
Pirates to overcome.

The Pirates too can play spoiler in the final two months, with a
******** 37 games remaining against NL Central opponents.  The Pirates
face the Cubs nine times, Cardinals and Brewers six times apiece, and
the Astros twice.  Those 13 games remaining versus Cincinnati will be
unlikely to draw large crowds.

So when it comes down to it, in this writer’s opinion the NL Central
is a two-horse race, with the Cubs and the Cardinals battling it out
neck and neck down the stretch.  Milwaukee and Houston are both solid
teams, but the Brewers’ lack of pitching and the Astros’ difficult
schedule will likely be too much to overcome.

The Cardinals have given themselves a big boost with the addition of
Matt Holliday to protect slugger Albert Pujols, and solidified their
lineup with Julio Lugo and Mark DeRosa.  The Cubs added much needed
lefty bullpen help with John Grabow and may have picked up a steal with
Tom Gorzelanny if he can continue to pitch like he did in Cincinnati on
Tuesday.

The two teams have very similar schedules down the stretch, so the
division might come down to a three-game series in St. Louis from
September 18th-20th.  Whichever team comes through that enormous arch in first place will have the upper hand and likely take the division crown.

For now, I’m going to give my biased edge to the Cubs, as there is a
good chance they could sweep their final six home games against
Pittsburgh and Arizona, while the Cards are on the road in Cincinnati
and then host Milwaukee on the final weekend of the season.

Should the Cubs Move Alfonso Soriano Back to Second Base?

When Alfonso Soriano was
acquired by the Washington Nationals prior to the 2006 season, the club
wanted to convert him from a second baseman to an outfielder. The Nats
already had a second baseman in Jose Vidro, but Soriano wanted no part
of the switch and sat out a few spring training games as a protest.  Eventually, Soriano gave in to the wishes of his manager (so as not
to forfeit any salary) and made the All-Star Game as a left-fielder.

Fast forward to May 2009, and the Chicago Cubs find themselves in
the opposite situation of the 2006 Nationals. The Cubs traded away Mark
DeRosa in the offseason, and have recently lost replacements Aaron
Miles and Ryan Freel to injury. 

The Cubs’ normal second baseman, Mike Fontenot, has been forced to
switch to third base due to another injury to Aramis Ramirez, leaving
manager Lou Piniella short on options at two of the infield positions.  If Freel goes on the DL, as expected, the Cubs will likely
recall Bobby Scales from Triple-A Iowa as his replacement, but the
infield depth will still be thin.

soriano-afraid-running-wall.jpg

In the outfield, however, the Cubs have plenty of options. Soriano,
Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, Milton Bradley, and Micah Hoffpauir are
all in the mix, with recent call-up Jake Fox looking for at-bats as well.

Until the most recent series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the
Cubs had been in an offensive slump. On a recent six-game road trip
against St. Louis and San Diego, the Cubs managed just five runs,
losing all six of the games. The team has attempted to solve this
problem by calling up Fox, but it means nothing if there is no way to
get his bat in the starting lineup.

One solution, albeit a crazy one, is to move Soriano back to second
base. Not having played there much over the last three-plus seasons
will make him a defensive liability, but no more so than inserting Fox
at third base.  Soriano does have a great arm in the outfield, but he
is not the best fielder out there either.  Moving Soriano to second opens up an outfield slot for Reed Johnson,
Micah Hoffpauir, or Jake Fox, and also gives Piniella more flexibility
with double switches later in games. 

This is definitely not a permanent solution, and once Aramis Ramirez
returns there will be no need for it. But Ramirez is anywhere from four
to six weeks away from returning, and the Cubs could fall too far back
in the division during that time for it to matter. 

Unfortunately, the Cubs can’t play the Pirates every game, and with
the Dodgers in town this weekend and interleague play on the horizon,
the Cubs need to do something to wake up their bats in a hurry.

Chicago Cubs Trade Felix Pie and Ronny Cedeno…but Not for Jake Peavy

On Wednesday, the Chicago
Cubs traded shortstop Ronny Cedeno and newly-acquired pitcher Garrett
Olson to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Aaron Heilman.  My question
is why?

There are reports that Heilman will compete for the Cubs’ fifth spot
in the starting rotation with the likes of Sean Marshall and the best
wide receiver in the city of Chicago, Jeff Samardzija. 

Others speculate that he will come out of the bullpen to pitch in a
long-reliever role, helping to set up the eighth and ninth-inning
combination of Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol.

Heilman prefers to start, but has only done so 25 times in his
career, and not since 2005.  He is already 30 years old, and his career
ERA is 4.24. Prior to last year’s abysmal 5.25 showing, he had three
straight seasons with a sub-3.70 ERA.  His career K/BB ratio is only
2.18, and he strikes out only 7.9 batters per 9 innings.

Looking at the stats, Heilman is a decent pitcher, and you
could do far worse for a long man or a fifth starter.  But he is
definitely NOT worth what the Cubs paid to get him.

In a deal that was eerily similar to the one involving former
can’t-miss prospect Corey Patterson a few years earlier, the Cubs dealt
center fielder Felix Pie to the Baltimore Orioles.  In return, they
received lefty Olson and Class-A right-hander Henry Williamson.  This
trade by itself is not horrible, as Pie just hasn’t proven he can hit
on the big league level.

When you combine the fact that the Cubs dealt Olson along with
Cedeno for Pie, the deal just becomes outright awful.  Cedeno, Pie, and
Olson were key chips in the potential trade for Padres starter Jake
Peavy.  While I’m not sure if a deal was ever close to occurring, it
seemed that most of the moves the Cubs had made this offseason were
gearing towards a deal. 

Negotiations stalled at the winter meetings because the Cubs didn’t
have the prospects that the Padres needed.  For this reason, the clubs
unsuccessfully tried to involve a third team in the trade to meet the
Padres’ requirements.  Once that failed, the Cubs traded Mark DeRosa
for three minor league pitchers and Pie for two more.  It seemed
everything was falling into place.  Then the Heilman deal.

So while trading Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno for Aaron Heilman is
a pretty balanced deal on its own, when you swap out Olson for Pie and
then factor in that the Cubs essentially gave up on Peavy by doing
this, it doesn’t seem worth it at all.

Chicago Cubs 2009 Offseason: Has The Team Improved?

On Monday, the Cubs inked
Milton Bradley to a three-year deal in what is the latest of a flurry
of offseason moves by GM Jim Hendry.  With the addition of Bradley, the
Cubs’ lineup takes on a slightly different feel.  Below is a quick look.

Lineup A:

SS Ryan Theriot

LF Alfonso Soriano

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Kosuke Fukudome

2B Mark DeRosa

C Geovany Soto

CF Felix Pie

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Kerry Wood

Bench: Daryle Ward, Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot, Henry Blanco, Ronny Cedeno

Lineup B:

LF Alfonso Soriano

SS Ryan Theriot

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Milton Bradley

C Geovany Soto

2B Mike Fontenot

CF Kosuke Fukudome

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Carlos Marmol

Bench: Daryle Ward (I’d prefer Micah Hoffpauir), Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, Paul Bako, Joey Gathright

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, you know Lineup A is from Opening Day
2008.  After Monday’s signing of outfielder Milton Bradley, Lineup B is
my projection for Lou Piniella’s team for the 2009 season (against a
right-handed starter). 

Looking at these two lineups, after all their recent offseason
maneuvers, is the current version of the Cubs an improvement at all
from the team swept in the 2008 NLDS? 

OFFENSE

In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.  Bradley is clearly an upgrade to
Reed Johnson/Jim Edmonds/Felix Pie at the plate, and can switch-hit,
but defensively the drop is much more significant. 

As everyone under the sun has noted, Bradley has rarely ever played
over 100 games in the field, and his health concerns are a large
liability.  Fontenot provides Piniella with a nice left-handed
alternative in the lineup, but the versatility lost in the field by
trading DeRosa is enormous. 

I know, I know, that’s where the bench comes in.  Aaron Miles
can play 2B, SS, 3B (kind of), and OF. Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright
can play multiple outfield positions, but Ward (or Hoffpauir) and Bako
are one-position guys.  Defensively, the bench is very similar to 2008,
but offensively it has dropped. 

Sure Aaron Miles hit .315 last year, but that’s the only time he has
hit above .300 in his career (not including his 4-for-12 season with
the White Sox in 2003).  Last season was Joey Gathright’s first above
100 games played, and he has also only hit above .300 once in his
career (2007). 

Paul Bako previously played for the Cubs, and he is no Hank White, I
can tell you that.  Bako’s career batting average is .231, with a
career high of .272 way back in 1998.

PITCHING

2008 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis

2009 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall

So before you think I’m all negative, the starting rotation has
clearly improved.  Last season’s midseason acquisition of Rich Harden
and this season’s preseason trade of Jason Marquis make the Cubs’
rotation one of, if not the most formidable in the National League.

An addition of Jake Peavy would only make the case for this being
one of the best starting rotations in history, so I don’t see much more
analysis needed here.

2008 Bullpen – Kevin Hart, Kerry Wood (CL), Carlos Marmol,
Bob Howry, Carmen Pignatiello, Michael Wuertz, Jon Lieber (Scott Eyre
and Angel Guzman on DL)

2009 Bullpen – Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol (CL), Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts, Kevin Hart, Kevin Gregg, Luis Vizcaino

The bullpen suffers an immediate hit as Carlos Marmol is moved from
set-up man to closer.  Marmol is an amazing pitcher, and his 114
strikeouts in just 87.1 IP last year is unheard of.  He was one of the
main reasons the Cubs got so many save opportunities last year. 

But can Marmol hold up under the pressure of the ninth inning?  Will
Cubs fans turn on him as they did during his bad slump during the 2008
season?

On top of that, who gets him the ball in the ninth inning with the
lead?  “Proven” veterans Chad Gaudin and Neal Cotts?  Young gun Kevin
Hart?  Newly acquired Kevin Gregg or Luis Vizcaino?  I’m glad we have a
potential lights-out closer in Marmol, but we can’t count on our
starters to go eight innings every game to give him a lead to work with.

OVERALL

Lineup – Advantage: Even

The 2009 Lineup is better in terms of balance and power, but defensively the 2008 lineup is superior.

Bench – Advantage: 2008

Paul Bako pretty much says it all. 

Starting Pitching – Advantage: 2009

Plus Rich Harden, minus Jason Marquis = Advantage 2009

Bullpen – Advantage: 2008

In both years we have an unproven closer, but in 2008 Wood had Marmol.

Overall– Advantage: TBD

Before you write this off as a cop-out answer let me make one
point.  There is virtually no way the Cubs can improve on the regular
season of 2008. Anything less than a division title (and the best
record in the NL) would be a huge disappointment.  There is literally
no way the Cubs can have a worse postseason than 2008.  None.  So only
October will truly be able to tell whether or not these moves have made
a difference.

A Look Back

The Cubs enter into a series against Philadelphia tonight in their first battle against a potential playoff team in 3 weeks (4 if you don’t count St. Louis).  The Cubs take a major league best 83-50 record into tonight’s game, having won 5 in a row, 13 of their last 14 on the road, and unbelievably 9 straight series dating back the 4 game sweep of the Brewers in Miller Park.  Here at CubBlog, we feel it is our duty to remind all you Cub fans of how we got to this unfamiliar place by looking back at some of the games that you may or may not remember, but were crucial in getting the Cubs to where they are today.

In Chronological Order:

1.  April 5th vs. Houston
After dropping 2 of 3 to Milwaukee to start the year and the first game of the series to Houston the day before, the Cubs were in danger of dropping to 1-4 on the year as they trailed the Astros 5-3 going into the bottom of the 7th inning with Astros ace Roy Oswalt still on the hill.  The Cubs scratched out a run on a walk, infield single and 2 ground outs before Derrek Lee tied it with a single and the legend of Kosuke Fukudome grew even larger when he hit a tie breaking 2-run double to give the Cubs the lead and chase Oswalt from the game.  The Cubs needed all the insurance they could get, holding on to win 9-7.  The Cubs went on to win 4 straight after that, including our number 2 game below.

2.  April 7th / 9th @ Pittsburgh:
The Cubs were lucky to have a day off between these games, as they played enough innings in these two to last them a 3rd game.  After going 2-8 in extra inning games in 2007, the Cubs took game 1 in 12 innings and game 2 in 15, blowing a 1-run lead in the 9th and a 2-run lead in the 14th before Felix Pie (a name we won’t hear much more this year) knocked a 2-run single with the bases loaded in the 15th.  In a theme we will see more of this year, Sean Marshall did whatever the team needed, making an appearance out of the bullpen and picking up his first career save in the 2nd game.

3.  May 11th vs. Arizona
It was a cold, dreary, rainy Mother’s Day in Chicago, and the Cubs were going for a sweep of the Diamondbacks.  Although they had completed a 2-game sweep of the Mets in April, many touted this series as the Cubs first real test against a contending team.  After beating Dan Haren in game 1 and coming from behind against the DBacks’ pen in game 2, Carlos Zambrano was slated to face off against Randy Johnson in game 3, but the weather forced both managers to take precautions, and those of us in the stands were left to see Sean Gallagher face Edgar Gonzalez. What ensued was the Cubs’ second straight come from behind victory, with Reed Johnson hitting his first HR as Cub to tie the game in the 7th and Daryle Ward coming through in the 8th with a huge 2-run double with the bases loaded off the bench.   Marmol and Wood each pitched a perfect inning and the Cubs swept the NL-best (at the time) DBacks. 

4.  May 30th vs. Colorado
The Comeback.  If you’re a Cubs fan you should already be replaying this game in your head, it’s that unforgettable.  With the wind blowing out and Ted “Gopher Ball” Lilly on the mound, the Rockies built an 8-0 lead after 4 innings and had a 9-1 advantage going into the bottom of 6th.  That’s when Cubs fans around the country (and maybe even world) started to believe.  Fukudome drove one the opposite way for a 2-run bomb, new Cub (or should I say former Cardinal) Jim Edmonds drove a solo blast to center, Henry Blanco hit his first homer since 2006 to make it 9-6, Edmonds drove a 2-run double to center and then scored on Mark DeRosa’s HR to give the Cubs a 10-9 lead that they held onto.  What added to the incredibility of this game was that Theriot and Ramirez both had the day off, and Lee and Soto were each removed in the top of the 6th.  Since it was a Friday day game, I didn’t get a chance to watch it live (Pat and Ron did a superb job), but this was one of a few games that I stayed up to watch the replay on Comcast at 1 AM.

5.  June 20th vs. White Sox
The Cubs arrived home after a 6-game road trip that took a detour through Cooperstown, having been handed their first 3-game losing streak of the season courtesy of a sweep by the Rays.  Following up the Thursday night game with the traditional Friday day game at Wrigley, the Cubs faced off against their crosstown rivals with both teams in first place, adding hype to a series that really didn’t need any more.  The Cubs scored first in this one, with Derrek Lee taking another 2 on, no-out situation and turning it into a 1-0 lead with a double play.  “Gopher Ball”  Lilly then struck again, allowing an absolute bomb to Jermaine Dye in the second and a 2-run shot to A.J. Pierzwhatshisface in the 3rd to give the Sox a 3-1 lead.  It remained that way through 6, with John Danks limiting the Cubs to just 5 hits on only 85 pitches when Ozzie Guillen removed him for a pinch hitter in the top of the 7th.  Although pinch-hitter Juan Uribe singled, the Sox failed to score, and Octavio Dotel came in to pitch the bottom of the inning.  Something like 3 pitches later, the game was tied at 3 as Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez went back-to-back, winning some lucky WGN Radio listener $7,000 in the back-to-back jacks game.  After an an uneventful 8th and top of the 9th, Aramis Ramirez came up again in the bottom and took Scott Linebrink’s 2nd pitch into the center field shrubbery for a walk-off homer, which sparked the eventual sweep of the South siders.

6.  July 12th vs. San Francisco
This was the shining debut of Rich Harden and the unraveling of Carlos Marmol.  Who knew a blister on Kerry Wood’s finger would end up meaning so much to this season?  Harden struck out 10 in 5.1 scoreless innings in his debut, but the Cubs pen blew a 7-0 lead, including 5 runs allowed in the 9th by Carlos Marmol during his really really really bad stretch.  That guy Sean Marshall came up huge again, pitching 2 perfect innings of relief and then hitting a leadoff single in the 11th which led to the game-winning run.  A loss here would have been awful for the Cubs’, especially Marmol’s confidence going into the break, but this year’s team just managed to pull another one out. 

7.  July 23rd @ Arizona
The game that started the Cubs on their current hot streak on the road is not coincidentally the same game that saw Alfonso Soriano return to the top of the lineup after missing nearly 6 weeks with a broken finger.  Fonzie went just 1-5 with an RBI, but the Cubs offense exploded for 10 runs, including an 8th-inning grand slam from Reed Johnson which proved to be valuable insurance as the Cubs went on to win 10-6.  Ted Lilly helped his own cause with a game-tying RBI single in the 5th, and pitched 6 strong innings in a quality start, a trend which he would continue through the rest of July and August.  The Cubs 6-run outburst in the 8th inning also added to 2 more common themes, the Cubs scoring lots of runs in the late innings (7th and 8th in particular) and leading the league in innings which they post 5 or more runs on the board (currently at 25, 2nd place at 17).

8.  July 27th vs. Florida
This Sunday afternoon game saw the Cubs coming off 2 straight 3-2 losses at home in which they had blown leads and wasted good outings from starters.  Naturally, that meant Jason Marquis was on the bump and promptly served up a 5-0 lead to the Marlins.  At this point, the Cubs were tied with the Brewers in the division, and were traveling to Milwaukee for a big 4-game series the next day.  Alfonso Soriano would have none of it, scoring the Cubs first run in the 3rd and tying the game at 5 with a 3-run opposite field homer in the 4th.  After Marquis gave up the lead again on a Dan Uggla bomb that still hasn’t landed, Derrek Lee tied it with a homer and
Mike Fontenot hit a bases clearing double to give the Cubs a 9-6 win.  Going into the series at Milwaukee up by a game rather than down made a huge difference, especially in the very next game on our list.

9.  July 28th vs. Milwaukee
A game in July that felt like a game in September.  The first of 4 at Miller Park with just 1 game separating the two teams.  The new ace of the Milwaukee staff was on the hill, but the Cubs struck early thanks to Alfonso Soriano, who doubled and scored in the first and homered in the 3rd.  “Gopher Ball” Lilly pitched great for 5 innings, but baseball games last 9, and he fell apart in the 6th, allowing 3 runs (including back to back jacks) to surrender the lead.  Then this Cubs team showed why this year feels different then all the years past.  Instead of rolling over, the Cubs fought to load the bases with one out in the top of the next frame.  Derrek (league leader in double plays) Lee stepped to the plate and hit a tailor made ball.  Reed Johnson hustled into second, slid into Rickie Weeks, who promptly threw the ball past Prince Fielder and two runs scored to give the Cubs the 4-3 lead.  Although Bobby Howry would surrender the lead, the Cubs scored 2 in the top of the 9th against the Brewers “closer” Solomon Torres and took game 1 of what would turn into a crucial 4-game sweep.

10.  August 8th vs. St. Louis
The Edmonds game.  How else can you title a game where a guy hits 2 homers against his former team and throws the bat at the visitor’s dugout after the first one?  After giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead with a homer in the first, Jim Edmonds stepped to the plate with the Cubs trailing 2-1 in the 8th and promptly cracked his 2nd of the game, adding to the Cardinals league-leading blown save total.  What might be overlooked in this game was the Cubs’ pen, who allowed only 1 hit in 3.2 IP, allowing for the game winning single by Hank White (aka Henry Blanco) in the bottom of the 11th. 

11. August 27th vs. Pittsburgh
Yes it was only 2 days ago, but it is the perfect example of how this club is a 25-man team.  The Cubs’ 5th and most inconsistent starter, Jason Marquis, was on the hill, and held the same Pirates that lit up Carlos Zambrano a night earlier to just 5 hits in 7 innings.  Meanwhile, a combined 0-for-6 from Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez meant runs would have to come from elsewhere.  Tied at 0 in the 7th, Reed Johnson (aka Mr. Hustle) led off with a perfect bunt single.  DeRosa kept the hot hand going by doubling him to 3rd, where Reed then hustled home on a grounder by Ronny Cedeno.  Next up was Henry Blanco, playing in place of Soto who had 7 RBI the night before.  I can’t say it was a perfectly executed squeeze, but the popped up bunt got the job done to score DeRosa and give the Cubs that insurance run they needed to get a rare win when scoring less than 4 runs.

mlb_g_cubs_sw_412.jpgAs I complete this article, the Cubs have just pulled off another come from behind late innings dramatic 5-run inning everyone contributes victory, beating the Phillies 6-4 thanks to an 8th inning grand slam by Aramis Ramirez.  It’s hard to believe that all the games I just wrote about involved wins by THE CUBS, but that’s what makes this year’s team so special.  Let’s hope it continues into September, where the Cubs play 25 of their remaining 28 games at teams currently above .500.  Should be exciting.

The Near Collapse

Carlos Struggles.jpgRich Harden’s debut as a Chicago Cub went just as planned.  For 7 innings.  Harden was lights out for 5.1 innings yesterday, throwing 96 pitches (66 for strikes) and fanning 10.  The Cubs offense was also hitting on all cylinders in the first half of yesterday’s game, scoring 7 times in innings 2-4.  CubBlog favorite Jim Edmonds had a HR and 4 RBIs, sparking the Cubs to a 7-0 lead.  

Then came the 8th.  Kevin Hart, who had thrown a scoreless 7th, promptly gave up a single, a double and another single to allow 2 runs to score.  Bobby Howry came in and put out the fire and the Cubs were out of the inning with no further damage.  Then Carlos Marmol came in to “get some work”.  Marmol misplayed a ball, walked a batter, and gave up 4 hits in allowing 5 runs to score.  We later found out that Kerry Wood was unavailable due to a blister (which will keep him out of the ASG on Tuesday), which explains why Lou had to stick with Carlos in that situtation.  

While listening to Pat and Ron in the 9th, I didn’t even consider the possibility that we could lose the game.  Then the wheels fell off, and it’s pretty clear that something is up with Marmol.  I mentioned in this June entry that Marmol had been pitching a lot (see #3), but now that he has been getting a great deal of rest and pitching in less important situations, the probability that this is a mental block is getting stronger.  The Cubs are definitely going to need Marmol on track for the stretch run, so let’s hope his time at the ASG gets him back where he needs to be.  

Back to the game, Sean Marshall pitched brilliantly out of the pen, just days after being in the rotation.  I don’t know from experience, but I’m pretty sure that it is a tough transition to make. He’s like our Mark DeRosa of the pitching staff.  After throwing his 2nd scoreless inning, Marshall led off the 11th with a base hit and moved to second on a walk to DeRo.  He was forced out at 3rd on Mike Fontenot’s bunt that was hit just a bit too hard, but the next batter was Reed Johnson and he singled home DeRo (on a very exciting play at the plate) to win the game.  

Dero Scores.jpgWhat could have been a devastating loss turned into another exciting win at the Friendly Confines.  The Cubs are attmepting to finish the first half with a sweep of the Giants, but they face a tough task as Tim Lincecum (10-2) takes the bump for the Giants today.