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.
As 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.
Yesterday’s game was another disappointing road loss for the Cubs, falling 2-0 to the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks and 44-year old Randy Johnson. Incidentally, Johnson moved to 13-0 lifetime against the Cubs, prompting a buddy of mine to say: “I think Randy Johnson could be dead and still throw a shutout against the Cubs”.
The point is, the Cubs are now 21-29 (.420) on the road, compared to an MLB best 37-12 at the Friendly Confines (.755). Clearly there is an advantage to playing at home, the crowds, knowing the ballpark, sleeping in your own bed, etc… but a 17 game difference? Something is going on, and I don’t think it’s the pitching. Here’s why.
The stats below are through 99 games (49 Home, 50 Road), so all things equal they should be close to even. Unfortunately, they are not. Here’s the breakdown:
Home – 308 Runs (1st in the majors)
Away – 210 Runs (T-17th in MLB)
Home – 67 HRs (3rd in the NL)
Away – 43 HRs (T-11th in NL)
288 RBI – 1st in MLB (lead by 12)
Away – 201 RBI (T-18th in MLB)
.305 BA – (1st
in MLB and the only NL team
Away – .254 BA (13th in MLB)
Home – .387 OBP (1st in MLB by 11 points)
Away – .325 OBP (14th in MLB)
Home – .491 SLG (1st in NL)
Away – .391 SLG (10th in NL)
Home – .879 OPS (1st in NL, 2nd in MLB by .001)
Away – .715 OPS (9th in NL, 16th in MLB)
So without looking at the pitching splits, it’s pretty clear that the Cubs aren’t hitting on the road. I know you didn’t need any statistics to figure that out (the big fat 0 they put up yesterday was a big hint), but some of those differences are pretty significant and have to be attributable to something other than the crowd.