Monday, August 22

Dispatches from Beyond the Wild Card

Scott Williamson turns another close game to dust

The 2005 Cubs, ladies and gentlemen, are finished. I'm calling a somewhat premature (but hopefully entertaining) end to our postseason aspirations, echoed in the mountains of Colorado with a 2-1 series defeat. Despite home run after home run on Sunday, the pitching just couldn't hold it together and we clattered to another unpalatable loss. You now have to search hard for news and views of our games; Yahoo! Sports' baseball page contains no information about the Cubs games, for those are now found under the embarrassing "More News" link. Even the Royals, with their string of failure, make the headlines on a monday morning.

With the game on the line at 6-5 Rockies in the 8th inning, Scott Williamson (1 1/3 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, BB, 4 K) served up a 3-run bomb to PH Jorge Piedra. Game over. The Cubs rallied against the lone Rox All-Star closer Brian Fuentes with 2 back-to-back jacks by D-Lee and Ramirez, but after 2 outs, a Barrett triple was in vain, and the Cubs lost 9-7.

The weekend started brightly with a strong performance by Prior, but Rusch came unglued on Saturday despite a reasonable outing (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 6 K) and Maddux served up 6 runs in 6 innings on Sunday.

So where does this leave us? Do we still have any chance?

The team is floundering in the midst of a largely frustrating season. Just when we gain some momentum, a key player gets hurt or goes cold and the team slides for a fortnight. The All-World performances from Derrek Lee have been a beacon for what we can achieve, and yet his efforts are being wasted with the week-in, week-out inconsistency across the rest of the roster. There are flashes, now and then; long winning streaks against tough opposition (anyone remember that run of 12-3 in late-May/early-June against the Astros, Rockies, Dodgers and Padres?) are superceded by dismal stretches of loss after loss against rivals and minnows alike (2-11 in July/August fortnight vs. Diamondbacks, Phillies, Mets and Reds). It's those moments that stick out the most.

Our schedule for the rest of the year is encouraging, to a point: while we cross paths with a number of hopefuls (Atlanta, Florida, Milwaukee and Houston x 2), we also have 7 games left against the Cardinals (3 in Busch, 4 in Wrigley). If we are to have any chance remaining, a chance that is diminishing with every passing day, we need to maintain our relative dominance against St. Louis. We're 6-3 against them this year, and if can keep up that ratio, who knows what could happen. However, the onus is on us and us alone to get us out of this mess, if such a thing is even possible. And, breaking it down, it seems all but done.

Of the 5 or 6 teams still slugging in that race, our records against them all are less-than-stellar:
(I'll include division leaders also in this list)

Atlanta: 0-4
Florida: 4-2
Washington: 1-5
Philadelphia: 2-4
Mets: 2-4
NL EAST: 9-19

Brewers: 4-6
Astros: 5-4
Cardinals: 6-3
NL CENTRAL: 15-13 vs. rivals

Padres: 4-3
NL WEST: 4-3

TOTAL: 28-35

Sorry guys, but that isn't going to cut it. When you look at it in this fashion, it paints a sorry picture. This late in the year, we're still hovering around .500, and there are less than 40 games left. Can we win 26 of our last 38 and hope that it's enough? At 6 1/2 games back from the Wild Card leader, even that might not be enough.

Just to illustrate why we're in this mess, let's look at the other Wild Card contenders against fellow NL contenders.

To clarify what this means, this next slew of stats will concern the previous teams mentioned above in games against one another.

Teams Involved: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, NY Mets, Houston, Florida, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, San Diego versus one another.

1 -- St. Louis - .583 (35-25)
2 -- Atlanta - .581 (43-31)
3 -- NY Mets - .533 (41-36)
4 -- Philadelphia - .520 (40-37)
5 -- San Diego - .500 (24-24)
6 -- Houston - .475 (28-31)
7 -- Florida - .457 (32-38)
8 -- Milwaukee - .451 (28-34)
9 -- Washington - .447 (34-42)
10 -- CUBS - .444 (28-35)

That's right folks. Out of the "Top 10" teams in the National League, the Cubs have the worst record against fellow postseason wannabes. It's a sad fact, and perhaps the most scathing statistic in favour of why the postseason is out of our grasp. When the game has mattered most, the Cubs have not lived up to expectation. That is what we deal with as Cubs fans, the overwhelming burden of expectation vs. result, and it haunts us still in 2005.

What can we expect?

It it tough to say. The Cubs' schedule and performance means that we can expect more of the same, that up-down feeling that has served as the motif of our year. A season with tension and hope as tight as Kerry Wood's arm tendons, as potent as Derrek Lee's offense, as bright-eyed as the Cubs rotation, and one more for the books. I'm not entirely without hope for our Wild Card, but it will take the kind of fiery run that only our opponents have mustered so far this year. While Houston has returned to life, the Cubs have coughed and spluttered.

I am looking forward to hopefully seeing some prospects coming up in September. Someone other than John "YoYo" Koronka - maybe Van Buren, Pie, Murton (again), Aardsma.... who knows. Expect that front office phone to be busy with all our minor league affiliates on speed dial.

I'm looking forward to the Braves series. If the Cubs want to keep their year alive, it begins again with tonight. As I've been saying with the arrival of every new series, it begins tonight.

ATL: RHP Tim Hudson • 9-7, 3.45 ERA in 2005 • Has never faced CHC
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 10-5, 3.07 ERA in 2005 • 0-0, 4.26 ERA in 2004 vs. ATL

Let's see what the ESPN evening brings, although it will be competing with the National Geographic channel for my attention.

Quick run through the Headlines

A friend of mine, Foley, tipped me off to a solid article from the NYTimes about poor old Adam Greenberg. Available here (registration required), it paints a more lyrical picture of his first night in the big leagues.

Andy McPhail looks back on a season not-yet-done.

Losing streaks and unlucky breaks.

Even Dustbag thinks Korey is Krap, but he plays Koy for the Kameras.

Prior to go Rocky Mountain High?


At 12:40 PM, Blogger gone said...

I'm with you...we're done. Anyone have a fork?

At 4:12 PM, Blogger JT said...

Ha. Yeah, it's going to take a Nick Nolte-sized comeback to make this race interesting from a Northsider's perspective.

But we can all hope, like the retirees in Cocoon, like the North Korean soccer team in the 1966 World Cup, like poker wives.


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