Writing About the Chicago Cubs and Looking at the Team’s Past
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The Cubs avoided the sweep and ended the White Sox 11 game winning streak on Sunday, topping the South Siders 8-6 at U.S. Cellular Field. Ryan Dempster went through his usual first inning struggles giving up two runs and putting the Cubs in an early hole. Dempster has now allowed 11 first inning runs in 16 starts. This premise has generally meant disaster for the team, but today was different. The Cubs grabbed control of the game by scoring the next six runs and never looked back. They took an 8-3 lead into the ninth before things got dicey with the normally dominant Marmol on the mound. The White Sox fought back to cut the deficit to 8-6 before Alex Rios struck out to end the game.
Tyler Colvin proved once again that he deserves the increased playing time that Lou Piniella has been giving him. He went 3-5 with a home run and four RBI’s, making it 27 on the year. That RBI mark is just nine below both Lee (36) and Soriano (36) but in far fewer at bats. Colvin has had just 130 AB’s this season compared to 270 for Derrek Lee. The rookie outfielder also has 10 home runs already which is one for every 13 AB’s.
Next week will feature the final home stand for Chicago before the all star break. First up will be the Cubs’ biggest nemesis, the Pittsburgh Pirates. After three with the Bucs, they will play four against the division leading Cincinnati Reds. People keep waiting for the Reds to fade away and for St.Louis to take control of this division, but it just has not happened. The Cubs are currently 33-42, which puts them at fourth place in the National League Central. They are now 8.5 GB which doesn’t feel right with how poorly the first half of the season has gone. It feels like this team should be farther out, but no team has seized control of the division.
A day after the Carlos Zambrano incident, the Chicago Cubs were looking for a fresh start. After Aramis Ramirez tied the game with a solo home run in the seventh inning off of Freddy Garcia, it looked like it might be there night. However, White Sox slugger Paul Konerko had other ideas crushing the eventual game winning home run off of an Andrew Cashner fastball in the eighth inning. It was a 99 mph. fastball coming on a 1-2 pitch, so you have to give credit to Konerko on that one. Matt Thornton then came in and closed out the Cubs, clinching the season series for the White Sox.
Carlos Silva was very good yet again. He only let in two runs on three hits over six innings, while striking out four. He had his usual Silva like command walking only one batter, but ended up getting a no-decision in this one. Cashner pitched the seventh and eighth innings, and was very impressive despite giving up the game winner to Konerko. After the game Cashner said he thought he had his best stuff of the season. He had all of his pitches working, it was just one minor mistake that he made and he paid for it.
The Cubs need to take a close look at what their crosstown rivals have done over the past two weeks because these two teams were in very similar spots. Both teams had solid pitching, but offenses that just were not getting the job done. However, over the past 11 games the White Sox have just found ways to win games. They are playing with extreme confidence and collecting wins even though the offense is still not producing many runs. The Cubs have the same kind of potential, but will they be able to get on a roll like the White Sox are on right now? I would not predict it to happen, although it certainly looked like it was never going to happen for the White Sox this season either.
The latest outburst by Carlos Zambrano should be his last one in a Cub uniform. On Friday afternoon, after allowing four runs on just 21 pitches, Zambrano exploded at teammates when he returned to the dugout. He exchanged words with Derrek Lee (who did not look pleased with what Zambrano had to say) before throwing down a cooler, dumping its contents all over the dugout. Piniella then banished Big Z to the clubhouse as most of his teammates stood around looking dumbfounded at what had just occurred. This incident has been such an embarrassment for the organization that they finally said enough is enough and suspended the nearly $19 million per year pitcher. Piniella also announced that if/when Zambrano returns, he will be in the bullpen and Tom Gorzelanny will assume his spot in the rotation.
There is no reason that the team should be forced to put up with Big Z’s antics any longer. The situation is outrageous on so many levels and there is no justification for the way that he acted. Zambrano believed that his teammates were not giving maximum effort, but it comes off looking like a frustrated pitcher having yet another meltdown. It should also be noted that the Cubs have had no direct contact with their pitcher since the incident, however Zambrano reportedly had dinner on Friday night with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. If you are going to make a mistake this egregious, at least stand up and apologize and handle it the right way. Not only has Zambrano been publicly embarrassed by this incident, but the entire organization as well. When something like this happens it gives the perception that the team is dysfunctional. Whether that perception is correct or not is almost impossible to figure out from the outside, but with the way the media operates today they will surely be jumping to that conclusion.
So, what do the Cubs do now? They have already reinstated Gorzelanny back into the rotation which in my mind is a good thing even if this incident never occurred. Simply put, Gorzelanny has been far better than Zambrano this season. It was a shame that they took him out of the rotation in the first place because his performance justified him staying there. The other thing to watch is what will Zambrano be like when he returns to the team. I am assuming that the players will welcome him back, and they will try to manufacture some good vibes upon his return but will Zambrano be able to perform? Looking at what Zambrano has done over the past year and a half, I don’t think anybody can answer that question.
The Cubs were able to salvage the final game of the series on Sunday in resounding fashion as they crushed the Los Angeles Angels 12-1 at Wrigley Field. Carlos Zambrano delivered his best performance of the season throwing seven innings and allowing just the one earned run. He also struck out seven and walked just one hitter. When Zambrano has his control, he can still be a dominant pitcher and it showed today.
Meanwhile, the offense finally showed up producing 12 runs on 18 hits. Most of the damage was done against the Angels’ starter Joe Saunders and reliever Brian Fuentes (11 of the 12 runs). Every Cub starter recorded at least one hit including Carlos Zambrano who went 2-4 with an RBI. Derrek Lee also had a big game collecting two hits and tallying four RBI’s. With Aramis Ramirez still out of the line up, Xavier Nady took his turn in the clean up role and had a solid day going 2-5 with two runs scored. Finally, Tyler Colvin did not start but he still made an impact coming up with a pinch hit, two-run single. He now has a pretty impressive 22 RBI’s in limited action this season.
One final positive from today’s ballgame, the Cubs did not give up any unearned runs. If they really want to get this season turned around they have to curtail their habit of giving away runs. Chicago currently leads the league in unearned runs allowed with 44, and had committed 11 errors in their previous five games heading into Sunday. Jeff Baker did commit his third error of the series and the season, but unlike Friday night it did not cost the team any runs.
The Cubs will get Monday off before beginning a three game series in Seattle on Tuesday. The Mariners have gotten outstanding starting pitching, but the offense has struggled mightily. Seattle comes into the series with a 28-41 record.
Carlos Silva won the first eight decisions of his Cub career. He has looked like an entirely different pitcher when compared to his most recent stint in Seattle, where he often struggled to get out of the fifth inning. Now, he is being relied upon to deliver consistent starts and wins for a Cubs team desperately in need of them. Silva tried to do just that last night against the Los Angeles Angels in their first ever trip to Wrigley Field, but came up short losing his second consecutive game to fall to 8-2. He was good for six innings, allowing three runs on six hits before a leg cramp forced him out of the game.
It felt like the Cubs were trying to chase the Angels all night as they fought back from an early 2-0 deficit to tie the game, and later nearly came back from five down in the ninth. The furious late comeback was fueled by Tyler Colvin who blasted a three run homer to make it 7-5, and then with two outs Derrek Lee hit his second home run of the game to cut the Halo’s lead to one. Colvin has taken advantage of his increased playing time as that home run was his eighth of the season, and his average is now up to .315 for the year. He hit in the lead off spot last night in favor of Fukudome.
Errors continue to plague the Cubs, as they made three of them last night. The worst part is each one of them was very costly and it shows because four of the seven runs the Cubs allowed were unearned. Jeff Baker made critical back-to-back throwing errors which really helped open the game up in the seventh inning. This sequence never happens and we may very well be looking at a Cubs victory this morning. Just another example of the Cubs doing things to not win games.
The Cubs who are now 30-37, seven back of the division leading Cardinals, will try it again today at 1:05. Ted Lilly (2-5, 2.90) who is coming off of his near no hitter will look for a little more run support today against Jared Weaver (6-3, 3.29).
Carlos Silva threw seven strong innings against the White Sox on Saturday, but it was not enough to prevent his first loss as a Chicago Cub. Silva, who entered the game with an 8-0 record, allowed just two runs which proved to be one too many as the Sox won the game 2-1. The Cub offense was stymied for the second consecutive day, this time by Mark Buerhle who threw 6.2 scoreless innings while striking out seven batters. Buerhle and the rest of the pitchers for the South Siders gave the Cubs many chances, but once again the offense did not come through. They actually outhit the White Sox 10-9, but went 1-10 with runners in scoring position. The Cubs have struggled in these situations all year, and until this number starts to turn around wins will be hard to come by.
The Cubs stranded two runners on base in three different innings, and also left the tying run on base in the ninth inning. Over the past five games, they are 5-37 with runners in scoring position. That is a .135 average. You cannot win games hitting this poorly in clutch situations. The Cubs did everything else right yesterday except get the clutch hits, but most of the time that is what it comes down to.
The final game of the series will be shown in prime time tonight at 8 pm. Ted Lilly will take the mound for the Cubs, looking for his second win of the season. He is 1-5, but his ERA is just 3.28, not representative at all of his record. For the White Sox it will be Gavin Floyd who comes in at 2-6 with an elevated ERA of 6.18. However, Floyd is coming off of his best start of the season against the Tigers. Lets see if the Cubs can finally score a few runs tonight and avoid the sweep.
The White Sox jumped all over the Cubs on Friday afternoon and never looked back en route to a 10-5 win at Wrigley Field in the year’s first meeting between the crosstown rivals. Randy Wells struggled once again allowing five runs in five innings of work. Jake Peavy took the mound for the Sox and looked like vintage Jake Peavy. He has not had the same success in Chicago yet as he did in San Diego, but that start yesterday was awfully close to the old Jake Peavy.
Now it is time for some more offensive fun facts: runners in scoring position edition! The Cubs went 1-8 with RISP yesterday and are now 4-27 over their last four games. This issue has plagued the team all season and it is not going away. The players have expressed their frustration with the lack of clutch hits and it really has been the story of the season thus far.
Lou Piniella is continuing to take heat for not giving OF Tyler Colvin more playing time. I have come out and said numerous times that he needs to be playing more because every time he is in the lineup, good things happen. Well, yesterday White Sox announcer Steve Stone came out with some negative comments about Piniella’s use of Tyler Colvin. Stone basically said that Colvin should be playing more and that Piniella does not know how to handle his young players. In this situation I tend to agree with Steve Stone. While the Cubs have a surplus of quality outfielders, you still have to put the best players in the game. He is taking the experience of Soriano, Byrd, and Fukudome over the production of Colvin. Fukudome is on the same track that he was on last season when he started out red hot, before fading and eventually leveling off. His average right now is down to .278 with very little to show for in terms of production. At this point, it is hard to justify Colvin’s lack of playing time.
The toughest opponent for the Cubs to beat this season has not been the Phillies, the Cardinals, or any of the other usual suspects. The most challenging team to beat has been…the Pittsburgh Pirates? The Cubs entered today’s game with a 1-6 record against the Bucs, and were 0-5 in Pittsburgh. They have had a tough time pushing runs across against Pittsburgh pitching, and the Cubs pitching staff had been about the only one in the league that the Pirates had been able to hit. However, the unbeatable Carlos Silva delivered another dominating performance in front of a sparse crowd (announced crowd of 12,378, but it is estimated that there were only about 3,000) at PNC Park on Monday afternoon as the Cubs handled the Pirates 6-1. Today’s win moved Silva to 8-0 on the year, and made him the first Cub since King Cole in 1910 to win his first eight decisions with the team. Silva went seven innings and allowed just one run on four hits, while Jeff Stevens and Sean Marshall finished off the ball game.
It will be a quick turnaround tomorrow, as the Cubs head up to Wrigley Field North/Miller Park for a three game set with the Brewers. Chicago is 5-1 against Milwaukee and 3-0 at Miller Park this season. That one series that they played this year in Milwaukee was probably the best stretch of baseball this team has played. They had all facets of their game on track and outscored the Brewers a ridiculous 25-4. It would certainly be nice to see some of that hitting return.
The Cubs enter the series at 26-31, seven games behind both the Reds and the Cardinals who are tied for first place at 33-24.
Here are the probables for the three game series in Milwaukee:
Game 1: Ted Lilly v. Yovanni Gallardo
Game 2: Carlos Zambrano v. Randy Wolf
Game 3: Ryan Dempster v. Dave Bush
Lou Piniella continues to shuffle the lineup around, but once again it did not make a bit of difference as the Cubs were held to one run in last night’s loss to the Astros. Felipe Paulino, who entered the contest with an 0-7 record, surrendered just one run on five hits over eight innings. The Astros won the ballgame 3-1.
Piniella replaced Fukudome at the leadoff spot with Marlon Byrd who performed well with two hits including an RBI double for the Cubs only run. Meanwhile, Fukudome slid down to fifth in the order and went without a hit. The rest of the lineup stayed pretty much the same as it has been all season. With all of the shifting around that Piniella has tried to do with the lineup, there is one move that he seems very reluctant to make that I believe needs to be done. Aramis Ramirez simply cannot continue to hit in the cleanup spot. Not with a .154 batting average. It is a very difficult thing to do to move a player like Ramirez out of the middle of the order. Since arriving in Chicago he has been the Cubs most consistent run producer but he is absolutely lost at the plate right now. This is no time to be worrying about keeping guys happy and soothing egos, however that is exactly what it looks like. If Piniella wants to put the best possible lineup on the field tonight, it would include Mike Fontenot and Tyler Colvin, with Aramis Ramirez hitting somewhere near the bottom of the lineup.
This situation feels similar in some ways to the end of Sammy Sosa’s time with the Cubs. He was no longer the feared hitter he once was, and it took Dusty Baker months to finally have the guts to move him down in the lineup. I hope that it will not take Piniella as long as it took Dusty to realize this.
The Cubs will try to snap a four game losing streak tonight as Ryan Dempster (3-5, 3.72) will go against the Astros ace Roy Oswalt (3-7, 2.78). It has been a tough year record wise for Oswalt, but he is pitching his best baseball in a while. The law of averages says that eventually the Cubs will score more than three runs in a game again. Who knows when it will happen again, but tonight seems like a good time for it.
Carlos Zambrano will make his long awaited return to the starting rotation tonight against the Houston Astros. Big Z has pitched better recently out of the bullpen, and tonight’s start will test just how far he has come. His last start was on April 20 against the Mets, where he gave up three runs in six innings while striking out nine. He is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA as a starter this season.
After winning series against the Dodgers and Rangers last week, there appeared be a glimmer of hope. They finally came through with some clutch hits and won close games, something that they had done very,very little of up to that point. However, they have quickly reverted back to their old ways in the most recent series against the Cardinals and Pirates. The offense has once again completely bogged down, and this team has proven that they simply will not win low scoring games. The Cubs are 3-22 when scoring three or fewer runs this season. Most teams are going to have sub-.500 records in these types of games, but this is a rather shocking statistic. You must be able to pull some of these games out, and the Cubs have not shown that ability. Needless to say that is far too many games in which the Cubs could not get past the three run barrier, but I won’t go any further into that right now as we have already discussed the problems with the offense ad nauseum.
Moving onto a different topic, this week’s not-so-perfect, perfect game thrown by Armando Galarraga has once again brought the discussion of instant replay back into the forefront. Watching him lose that perfect game on blown call was heartbreaking, but it still does not change my stance on instant replay in baseball. The ability to use replay on questionable home run calls is as far as they should go with it. There are far too many close calls in each game that it would be hard to figure out where to draw the line on what exactly is reviewable. Also,the human factor is one of many aspects of the game that makes baseball what it is. However, that is the part that is causing the most controversy right now. There is a growing segment of people that want to eliminate as much of the human element from the game as possible. To that I say the games are long enough as is, do you really want to make them even longer? Also, how satisfying would it have been if on that last out if they had to pause the game for ten minutes to decide whether the batter was out or not? In my mind it would not be the same, and baseball should stay away from instant replay as much as possible.
Carlos Zambrano will now have to wait until Friday at the earliest to return to the rotation after rain wiped out Wednesday night’s game against the Pirates. The game has been rescheduled for Monday at 12:35. This creates a hectic travel schedule for the Cubs who travel down to Houston this weekend, followed by the game in Pittsburgh on Monday, before heading out to Milwaukee the next day.
Piniella said that they do not want to wait until next week to pitch Zambrano. He will start one of the three games in Houston.
The Cubs are now an inexplicable 1-6 against the Pirates this season after falling 2-1 on Monday night at PNC Park. Pittsburgh came into last night’s contest as losers of nine of their last eleven, and they had scored more than three runs just one time during that stretch. However, two runs proved to be enough as Pirate starter Russ Ohlendorf handcuffed Cub hitters for seven innings allowing just one earned run. This was Ohlendorf’s first win since August 18, 2009 (10 starts). Randy Wells did a nice job for the Cubs yesterday, bouncing back from his Friday meltdown. He threw five scoreless innings but was on a tighter pitch count, which forced Piniella to remove him after 90 pitches.
The offense did a whole lot more of nothing on Monday, and Piniella finally appears ready to make some significant changes. Mike Fontenot started at second base instead of Ryan Theriot who was given the night off. However, Piniella hinted that it could lead to more than that due to Theriot’s recent struggles. Fontenot is one of the few players that has been productive of late and it is a good move to get him into the line up. He is hitting .324, and has a solid .373 OBP. His history shows that those numbers will fall as the season continues, but for now they need to find a spot for him.
Every major league line up is going to have holes in it, but those holes are usually not in the middle. That is the case right now though for the Cubs whose 3-4-5 hitters have struggled mightily. The three players that have been there the most, Byrd, Lee, and Ramirez are all slumping, and the latter two have been in a funk all season. Lee is in a 1-for-14 slump while Ramirez’s .162 batting average is the second lowest amongst every day players. Add in Marlon Byrd’s 7-for-46, and Theriot’s 5-for-36 and it is easy to see why they are not scoring any runs.
One final note, John Grabow has been put on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his left knee. The veteran left-hander is 0-3 on the year with a 9.45 ERA.
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