Everyone Come Back!! or "Return from the Wilderness"
Well hello once more everyone. I hope we can all reconvene once again after a week in the relative darkness.
The parents have left town, headed back across the water to Blighty, so now I'm free to catch myself up with the abyssmal Cubs week and work through it all from the ugly beginning.
Since Tuesday and LB's last game-related update (although thanks to Adica for that joke), the Cubs have been 1-5, outscored and outplayed by their Brewery and National opponents (not to mention a shut-out by the Braves last night). Scoring only 18 runs and coughing up 29 to their opponents, the Cubs have shown little of the fight that propelled them through a difficult late-May/1st half of June schedule, settling down into old habits that definitely do die hard.
So where to begin?
Wednesday -- Cubs 3, Brewers 2
Kerry Wood's triumphant return saw him miss out on the decision despite outpitching Brewers deadeye Ben Sheets, scattering 2 hits and 1 run over 6 innings of 9-strikeout baseball. Wood was inspired, and his efforts were just enough for the bullpen to juggle. Despite giving up the tying run in the 7th inning, a solo home run by Overbay off Glendon Rusch, the 2-inning trio of Wuertz, Ohman and Novoa held the fort, setting the stage for Todd "I love Tom Emanski's baseball instructional videos" Hollandsworth's crawl-off bloop RBI single in the bottom of the 9th.
Thursday -- Cubs 6, Brewers 10
Carlos Lee's life must be difficult. Being the MLB leader in RBI, every hit-less game seems to attract nationwide attention. But not to worry, he took full opportunity of Greg "Painter" Maddux's candy-store pitch selection, clubbing 2 home runs and adding 3 RBIs to his league-leading 72.
Maddux slipped and slid through 5 innings of 6-run baseball, and despite Chris "Depends" Capuano's pitching woes, the Cubs slid to defeat. Derrek Lee missed out on the 25 hits shared by the two teams, and despite Jerry "Rudy" Hairston Jr. and Michael "Tissue" Barrett's dingers, the Brewers were too strong.
Friday -- Cubs 3, Nationals 4
Livan Hernandez should come with a caution sign. His ability to give up runs and still remain in the game is frightening, and Frank "Jockey" Robinson rode his ace all the way to the bank in a 1-run win.
Prior fumbled through 5 innings of reasonable pitching -- 5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 7 K -- but the Nationals took advantage of all the bad pitches (only 82 of them in all, 60 strikes) and gave Hernandez enough of a cushion (8 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) to succeed. The Cubs made it easy for him, stranding 7 on-base as well as committing some awful gaffes on the basepads - C Brian Schneider picked off Burnitz at 3rd base with 1 out in the 8th was a game-losing mistake.
Saturday -- Cubs 2, Nationals 4
Tony Armas Jr. is still in the league?
Any doubt of that was soon wiped off my face, as his 5 innings of 2-run ball were enough to beat the punchless Cubs. The downright nasty Nationals bullpen coasted through 4 innings to seal the deal -- Majewski, Eischen, Carrasco, and Cordero's 29th save -- with Derrek Lee's solo HR in the 6th completing the scoring. Jerome Williams pitched well, going 7 strong innings (5 H, 4 ER), and Wuertz struck out 4 Nats in his 2 innings of work, but it was not enough.
The Nationals are not a flashy team, unless you count Majewski's mesmerizing blonde, girl-like hair or Jose Guillen's colourful language, but they are lethally efficient. Watching them is like watching an abbatoir the day before Thanksgiving.
Sunday -- Cubs 4, Nationals 5
This was perhaps the cruelest joke of this half-finished season.
Zambrano was his usual volatile, epic self -- 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K -- although his opposite number, the gratis Ryan "I got cut by the Texas Rangers and all I got was this lousy NL East-leading Nationals bullpen to back me up" Drese, whose 7 scoreless innings set the stage for a bitter ending. Leading 2-0 into the 9th, Cordero prepared to close out proceedings, although Aramis was having none of it. His 2-run, 2-out HR sent us to extra innings, and the Nationals took another lead on the back of Brad Wilkerson's 11th Inning 2-run double. Undeterred, the Cubs came out firing again, this time against Hector "2.43 ERA" Carrasco. A solo HR by JHJr. and a Holls RBI double tied the score again at 4-4.
Mitre, newly-demoted to the bullpen, relinquished a solo, 2-out HR to Schneider in the top of the 12th, and this was the final nail in the coffin. A heart-wrenching extra-innings loss to the NL East powerhouse.
Monday -- Cubs 0, Braves 4
Adam LaRoche belted 2 home runs, and Kerry Wood's 2nd start back from the DL was nowhere near as sweet (5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K). Rookie Kevin Davies gave up only 4 hits in 6 2/3 innings of work, and the game was done.
So what have we learned?
-- Rusch and Mitre are struggling since being pushed down from the rotation.
Rusch's ERA has risen slowly from 3.13 to 3.35 over his last 3 appearances, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) in 3 innings.
Mitre's difficulties have been similar -- 3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.
Reinforcing the bullpen is perhaps a priority in the trading period, although Glendon and Sergio both deserve more opportunities (heck, look at how many "Get out of Jail Free" cards Borowski got) to prove themselves as solid relievers. The hierarchy is definitely setting itself within the bullpen:
Dempster (10-11 in Save Opportunities) in the closer's chair.
Wuertz (3 ER in last 6 2/3 IP), Ohman (2.29 ERA in 19 2/3 IP) and Novoa (0 ER in last 7 IP) the primary set-up men.
Rusch, Mitre, Remlinger fighting for the rest, either pitching on days where other set-up men need rest or coming in late in the blow-out games either way.
-- Derrek Lee is coming back down to Earth (only a little)
In his last 10 games, Lee is 11-41 with a 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 3 RBI and 6 R over the stretch. His average has dipped from the Mr. Fantastic-like .390 to a Superman-like .378, still phenomenal, and all of this action is to be expected over the course of a season.
-- The rotation is still not incredible
Things do look good, with everyone healthy, present and correct. Wood and Prior had successful first starts back off their recent DL-vacation, although their 2nd starts were not nearly as stellar -- 5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER//5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER as well! Weird! I do agree, these aren't bad starts relatively speaking and I'm not carrying the Doomsday mentality on my back, but I'm just being a little realistic. A lot of hype was brought with the starting quintet into the season, and with the straight swap of Rusch-for-Williams in the rotation, a lot is still expected. It wouldn't be so bad if the run support had been there over this 5-game losing streak, but that too will change. It's just an observation from the past 7 days, and I don't expect it to continue in this vein.
-- Hollandsworth can be clutch?
Here's another unfortunate sod I've battered and berated this season. 11-30 in his last 10 games, with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs to boot! He is perhaps feeling the pressure of all this trade talk and has stepped up his game accordingly, although I do maintain that the LF position can be improved at minimal cost and that the Cubs should be a buyer this trading period.
More again later, including a return to regularity from the great LB machine. Hawk just moved house, Hypo just took a roadtrip to see us here in Brooklyn, and my parents just flew home. Everyone's present and accounted for, so look for more of the same witty banter right through to Armageddon Day. Oh, and some headlines too.
Cheers and enjoy the game tonight (somehow).
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 7-5, 4.87 ERA in 2005 • 8-3, 4.03 ERA vs. ATL lifetime
ATL: RHP Roman Colon • 0-4, 6.30 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 0.00 ERA vs. CHC in 2004
PS. Roman Colon is perhaps the best name I've ever seen in baseball. Move over Mr. G. Perry, there's a new man in town. I will now spend the next 12 hours devising headlines playing off Senor Colon's unfortunate moniker.