Tagged: Ted Lilly

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In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.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.

Hello Wisconsin

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). 

 

2.  Intangibles

There are
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
this week.

 

3.  Pitching

The Brewers
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

Carlos
Zambrano – 8 IP, 0 ER, 9K

Ryan
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
more.

 

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. 

As this
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. 

On the Road…Again

After a
2-week absence, the CubBlog makes its triumphant return.  So what did I miss?

 

The Cubs
played 13 games in 14 days, winning 9 and dropping 4, bringing them to
a season high 20 games over .500 at 45-25. 
The stretch included a 3-0 record at home, and more importantly, a 6-4
record on 2 road trips.  The Cubs have 13
of their next 19 on the road (3 on the Southside), so keeping up their winning
ways away from Wrigley will be extremely important. 

So what did we learn from these past two weeks?

1. The rotation is improving

Behind
Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, the rest of the rotation had been a bit
suspect through the first 2 months of the season.  Ted Lilly opened the season with an ERA near
10, Jason Marquis couldn’t get past the 5th inning, and the 5th
starter spot was a mess until Sean Gallagher claimed it in late May.  Since then, Marquis has gone 3-0, Lilly is
2-1 (his only loss was a 2-1 defeat), and while Gallagher has gone 0-2, he has not
allowed more than 3 runs in any start.  The
Cubs are considering going after another starter (I’ve heard anywhere from C.C. Sabbathia to Randy Wolf to Greg Maddux) in the event that Rich Hill
doesn’t make it back to the majors this year, but if the back 3 of the rotation
continue to pitch this well, it may not be necessary, although you can never
have too much pitching.

2.  Jim Edmonds reads my blog

Seriously, there is no other explanation.  Since I blasted him in an entry on May 29th, (Here) all he has done is gone 18-for-44 (.409), with 2 big HRs and 14 RBIs, while starting 12 games.  More importantly, he’s only struck out 3 times in that span.  I still have trouble cheering for the guy, as I’m convinced he’s just waiting to drop a crucial fly ball in October and then rip off his Cubs uni to display a Cardinals shirt, but it’s hard to be unhappy when he hits a game-tying opposite field HR in the 9th inning of a game that the Cubs go on to win. 

3.  Marmol and Wood have pitched a lot
And I mean A LOT.  Marmol has appeared in 37 of the Cubs 70 games this year.  For those of you who like math, that’s more than half.  Bet you thought I was gonna give you a percentage.  Well I am, it’s 52.9%.  Anyway, in those 37 games, he’s gone 43 innings already.  To compare, in all of last season he threw in 59 games, recording just 69 1/3 IP, meaning he’s nearly 2/3 of the way to both games and innings pitched totals from last year. 

The comparisons to last year don’t really apply to Woody because he didn’t return from the DL until August 5th.  (Editor’s Note: I was at that game and got chills just thinking about it.)  But it should be noted that it’s his first full season as a RP, and his 35 appearances this season are more than he has ever made in his career.  Yes, he’s only thrown 37 innings, and has done very well in nailing down 18 of 22 save chances.  But you have to wonder why he’s made 35 appearances with only 22 save chances.  Occasionally a 2-run lead will become a 4-run lead, and there will be the extra-inning game where he needs to pitch in a tie game, but 13 of them already?  Seems like a lot.

All this is just to say that while the back end of the bullpen has been outstanding thus far, Lou needs to (and he is) keep an eye on the use of these star relievers so they last into September (and hopefully October).

4.  The Cubs will miss Fonzie
Not his defense of course, but his bat.  In 38 games since returning from the DL on May 1st, Soriano was batting .323, with 13 HRs, 35 RBIs, and most importantly, 5 SBs, including 3 in his final 7 games leading up to the injury.  While that will obviously be missed in the lineup, the Cubs have Lee and Ramirez to pick up the power slack, and Reed Johnson, Ryan Theriot and maybe even Kosuke to fill in at the top. 

The silver lining behind this, if we must look for one, is that Soriano will be able to rehab his legs for 6 weeks while recovering from the broken hand.  He clearly came back early from his first stint on the DL, and only in the last week did he look like he was regaining his form.  Now he has a chance to concentrate on his legs for at least a month, which will hopefully make him a threat on the bases when he returns. 

5.  The Cubs are never out of any game
I know the immediate thought is of the 10-9 comeback win against Colorado that happened before the 2-week absence, but the Cubs have come back from behind against Atlanta and San Diego in the past two weeks, and had a chance to win every game with the exception of the complete game shutout thrown by Kuroda of the Dodgers.  It’s a great feeling to go into the 9th inning with thoughts of a comeback win rather than being resigned to a defeat.

The Cubs are in Tampa tonight for the first of 3 against the AL Wild-Card leading (too early?) Rays.  A good matchup tonight between Ryan Dempster and Scott Kazmir will set the tone for the series.  After that, the Cubs welcome the Sox for 3 and the Orioles for 3 at Wrigley before finishing up interleague play against those same White Sox at the Cell.    

The Comeback

Awesome.jpg

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).

Fu Ku Do Me.jpg

DeRo HR 2.jpg

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.

KWood and Blanco 2.jpg

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
combo.

Marmol.jpg

 

The HR That Was, Then Wasn’t, And Then Was Again

capt.fc9ff1593766414eb7b8f02750c193f5.cubs_astros_baseball_hta106.jpg

Geovany Soto hit a deep drive that landed just to the right of the yellow line in Houston on Monday night, which should have been a HR, but the umps let play go on.  Luckily, Michael Bourn made a half-hearted jump into the centerfield wall, and let the ball roll aimlessly into the outfield, which allowed Soto to follow Ramirez and Fukudome all the way around the bases for what will most likely be his one and only inside-the-park HR.  That gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead which they never looked back from, beating the Astros 7-2.
Soto’s HR

The Cubs were able to win tonight partly due to the Soto HR, but also due to bringing home the insurance runs.  Up 3-2 in the 7th, Derrek Lee drove home Ryan Theriot to make it 4-2, and in the 8th, Theriot returned the favor, driving in Mark DeRosa to make it 5-2.  Those runs were critical, as the Astros put men on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out in the bottom half of the frame.  If they were only down by 1, the scenario may have played out differently, as a fly ball would have tied the game.  Instead, they needed 3 runs, and ended up getting none.  Of course, they might not have scored any as Carlos Marmol was on the bump and set the 3-4-5 hitters, some of the hottest hitters in baseball, down in order.  Aramis Ramirez destroyed a hanging curveball in the 9th to add to the insurance tally, and giving us the final score of 7-2. 

Another key factor in this game that could affect the Cubs going forward in this series was Ted Lilly and the bullpen cooling off two of the hottest hitters in baseball, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence.  These two had hitting streaks of 17 and 16 games, respectively, going into Monday night’s ballgame, and ended up a combined 0-8 with 4 Ks (3 by Berkman).  Cooling down those two bats can only help the Cubs going forward.

And now, it pains me to discuss it, but what a ridiculous catch by Jim Edmonds.  In his earlier days, he would have had a better beat on that ball and been able to position himself for an unneccesary dive to make the catch look more dramatic.  Now, he was able to get under it and make an unbelieveable catch while running up that stupid hill in centerfield.  I can’t yet say that I’m glad he is a Cub, but I was for that one play.
Edmonds’ Catch