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Game 161: Cubs 4 – Reds 0

Sep
30

Cubs 85-76, +3
Reds 71-90, -14

POTG: SP Rich Hill (6 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 4 K, W [11/17])
Runner Up: LF Matt Murton (HR, 2B, 2R, RBI), C Mr. Soto (3H, 2 2B, R, RBI), CF Felix Pie (2 H, SB), RP Sean Marshall (2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 3 K)

This was the best lineup ever

SS Theriot
2B Fontenot
LF Murton
CA Soto
CF Pie
3B Cedeno
1B Blanco
RF Fuld

Despite putting the most Iowa Cubs lineup possible, the team that spent last night celebrating winning the division (and getting their hotel invaded by fans) were trying a heck of a lot more than the home squad. A little bit of it to do with guys trying to make sure they made the roster (though the two best performances were of guys who were certain to make it), but I think it was also the Reds just losing the will to care. Plenty of no-hitters come against teams who don’t care or just aren’t any good (and with the OF injuries, the Reds are both.) I don’t think it tainted Rich’s performance at all, but it sure aided it.

I would’ve left Rich pitch as long as no hitter was intact. I know you want to save something for the playoffs, but I don’t think it’s very applicable here. Rich hasn’t pitched in a week and won’t pitch again for another week (or more.) When he’s got that much time between starts, you might as well let him air it all out.

Today’s game will be fun for the Spring Training cameos (how many guys can play in one game), but more interesting for following the scoreboard and seeing if there’s a tiebreaker mess left behind.

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Game 160: Cubs 6 – Reds 0

Sep
29

Cubs 84-76, +3 (CLINCH)
Reds 71-89, -13

POTG: SP Carlos Zambrano Is The Greatest Man Alive (7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, BB, 4 K, W [18/82])
Runner Up: LF Soriano (2B, HR [32/240], 2R, RBI), 1B D Lee (HR [22/238], 2 RBI), 2B Mark DeRosa (2 H, 2 R), CF/RF Jacque Jones (3 H, 2B, 2 RBI)

Yep.

Yep.

Yep.

Yep.

Game 159: Marlins 6 – Cubs 4

Sep
28

Cubs 83-76, +2 (still)
Marlins 69-90, -18

POTG: RP Kerry Wood (2 IP, H, BB, K, 3 Marooned)
Runner Up: LF Soriano (2 H, 2B, RBI, BB), 3B A Ram (4 H, 2B, R, RBI)

As of the start of day, September 28, the team in the NL with the most secure shot of making the playoffs are the Chicago Cubs (the team that just got swept by the Marlins.) Backing into the playoffs may not be glamorous or exicting, but the Brewers are going to let it happen. With the Padres needing to win games and Milwaukee unable to, the Cubs might not have to win another game the rest of the way – but I think we’d all like that to change, just for sanity’s ake.

Even I have to admit the Trachsel trade is a total failure. It’s hard to say it’s the worst recent Cubs trade when this series featured D-Train and Reynol Pinto shutting the Cubs down and I had hopes of vengeance when Trachsel sat down nine in a row. Trachsel wasn’t good enough, and they would’ve done as good sticking with Marshall or going to Gallagher or Hart. I think it was still a worthwhile gamble but the results were not there.

Scott Eyre’s been good of late so it was sad to see him struggle. Anyone who’s been watching this team knew Dempster was giving up run(s) when he came in a non-save situation so that was no surprise. At least we can take Wood’s really good performance from this game as far as the pitches are concerned. If he allowed any runs in at that point, the game is mostly over. It’s just too bad the Cubs couldn’t do anything with 9 more outs.

Ram had a nice day, and I’ve noticed he seems to be the designated Cub to pick up 6th-10th place votes on MVP ballots this year, but the Cubs need more than doubles to win. This game was the only one where it felt like the Cubs might yet rally back for a huge win, but they just ran out of gas after the sixth inning. (Pinto walking his way thru trouble to get to Jacque paid off big – not sure if it just happened to work that way or they meant to walk Floyd and Monroe for a high risk/high reward shot.)

After this game, I decided to unplug from the rest of the world – did some reading, messed with my new iTouch (which, in fact, is awesome – but I need a case and the rest of the world needs to hack it for me), and pretty much ignored all responsibilities to get away from the MLB scoreboard for a night. It worked out fine – I didn’t have to follow the Brewers pitch by pitch for them to lose another, and there’s plenty of chaos still to unfold on the last few days. It was a good day to take off from the race from a mental health standpoint.

I’d bet on Z tonight. (Actually, I AM betting on Z tonight in my fantasy league.) With Capuano starting for the Brewers, the Cubs have a fine shot of ending the drama tonight.

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Game 158: Marlins 7 – Cubs 4

Sep
27

Cubs 83-75, +2
Marlins 68-90, -19

POTG: CF Jacque Jones (SF, H, 3 RBI)
Runner Up: RF Cliff Flod (2 H, 2 BB, 2B), 2B Mark DeRosa (2B, 3B, 2R, but a crippling bad throw for an error)

I don’t even know where to start with this game. It was kinda a flashback to last year and earlier starter, where a random unknown starter is the worst thing the Cubs can hope to face – but it was even beyond that. The Cubs did light up Barone to a good extent, scoring 4 in under 4 innings. The bigger offensive problem was the inability to do anything with the Marlins bullpen – they ended up throwing 5.1 IP of 2 hit, no walk, no run ball. The Cubs had to find someone in the nix to actually hit.

Marquis did not have a great day, but the game was derailed by DeRosa’s inability to make a good thru on Hanley Ramirez’ second inning at bat. It seemed to me an accurate throw starts a double play and the Cubs are out of the inning with the game still tied. It’s just one bad day, just like Marmol’s bad outing was just one bad outing, and DeRosa tried to make it for it at the plate. That was just the moment which swung it for this game.

I’d like to see the Cubs finish this out strong, but getting in is getting in, and if the Brewers want to choke it away, it’s fine by me. I kinda actually want to see the Brewers take one of their upcoming games, just because the Padres slipping back into a tie with the Rockies would be awesome for many reasons, but I think I’ll be okay if they want to take care of the Cubs winning number by themselves.

Today might be the biggest start of the rest of Steve Trachsel’s career. Also, besides the playoff things, he could make me look less like an idiot for endorsing that trade. It’d be nice time to get the first win against the Marlins.

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Game 157: Marlins 4 – Cubs 2

Sep
26

Cubs 83-74, +2
Marlins 67-90, -20

POTG: CF Keystone Monroe (2R HR)
Runner Up: RP Michael Wuertz (2IP, 0R, 0H, 3K)

This is not a night Andy Fletcher will look back at proudly. I know the Cubs have had some bad umpiring games this season, but this sure seemed like the worst. The strike zone was bumped 1-2 ball widths outside, with pitches clearly missing the strike zone being called strikes. The Cedeno “strikeout swinging” was an all time bad call, and seemingly a sign the umpire was reacting to the questioning of his calls by making even more questionable calls.

It’s good thing A Ram is the type to say something and keep on walking, because being ejected will probably only get him a fine here. It was kinda lucky he was the only one – DeRosa was just as ticked after his strikeout.

Bad calls aside, this was not the best of efforts by the Cubs.

1st inning: 11 pitches
5th Inning: 7 pitches (including a 4 pitch walk by Murton!)
6th Inning: 10 pitches
7th Inning: 10 pitches

D-Train was good but not THAT good. The Cubs didn’t keep the energy level up from the home series and it showed. With the Brewers annihilating the Cardinals, it was a bad time for a let down. Made for a quick game, though.

Possibilities remaining for a draw (or worse)

(Brewers get unnaturally hot)
Brewers go 5-0, Cubs go 3-2

(Cubs collapse in a horrible fashion)
Brewers go 4-1 (or better), Cubs go 2-3
Brewers go 3-2 (or better), Cubs go 1-4
Brewers go 2-3 (or better), Cubs go 0-5

It’s on the Cubs, and I think they’re still plenty good enough to go 3-2. I’m a bit more nervous after losing that game, though. Lose another and you’ll have just about everyone freaking out.

as an aside: totally rooting for the Rockies to make it or at worst, cause some sort of tie at the end of the season. I was so annoyed with the Giants for giving up the game versus the Padres.

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quick radio plug

Sep
26

Stuff about the game – mostly how losing one game in the standings can cause you to freak out – a bit later, but I thought I should mention my appearance on NewsTalk 1400 WDWS-AM (East Central IL) before it actually happens this time. It’s at 6 PM, just as the game’s starting, so you can possibly hear me lose my mind if Jason Marquis blows up in the first inning tonight.

We’ll be talking about the Cubs, the playoffs, the ownership (there’s no way they can it done before next season) and whatever else for a good 15 minutes.

Figuring out the playoff roster

Sep
25

It helps me think this thru a bit if I divide it up into smaller lists

There’s no possible way any of these guys any playoff series (barring injury)

01 CA Soto
02 CA Kendall
03 1B Lee
04 1B Ward
05 2B DeRosa
06 SS Theriot
07 3B Ramirez
08 LF Soriano
09 CF Jones
10 RF Floyd

11 SP Z!
12 SP Lilly
13 SP Marquis
14 RP Eyre
15 RP Howry
16 RP Marmol
17 CL Dempster

That’s what I had on Saturday morning, and two more clinched and aren’t worth discussing during the weekend.

18 RP Wuertz
19 RP Wood

That leaves six spots for everyone else on the active roster. Assuming an 11 man pitching staff (which isn’t firm but the best bet), two more pitchers and four more hitters need to be added.

SP Gallagher
SP Hart
SP Hill
SP Marshall
SP Trachsel

RP Ohman
RP Pignatiello

CA Blanco

2B Fontenot
SS Cedeno

OF Fuld
OF Monroe
OF Murton
OF Pie

That’s 14, which is more than 6. Gallagher and Pignatiello have barely pitched down the stretch and can be quickly canceled out. The Cubs aren’t going to carry 3 catchers and there’s questions about Blanco, so he’s not worth considering. We’re down to 11 for 6.

Let’s split that up a little more, looking at the individual slots to fill:

FOURTH STARTER/LONG MAN – if the Cubs are lucky enough to make it to the playoffs, there’s a possibility their NLDS schedule would have enough off days to run out a three man rotation with only one start on short rest. (It’d go something like Lilly, Z, Marquis, Lilly (short rest), Z (full rest). Such is the NBA-ation of the playoff schedule.) A savvy team with some time to set up it’s rotation is going to take another start from their 1 or 2 guy over their 4th guy. You’d still want that starter around to mop up if things go bad or go long.

remaining depth chart
SP Hill
SP Trachsel
SP Marshall
SP Hart

It’s hard to imagine Rich Hill not making the playoff roster, after being in the fourth starter role all season. He has had some bad starts in September, enough so that I didn’t feel comfortable locking him on the roster because I think he could still play his way off. There’s been some concern in the past about how he’d perform coming out of the bullpen, but I don’t think Tracshel or Marshall would inspire any more confidence in that situation. I could see Hill being skipped if the Cubs end up against a team that just kills lefty pitching, but even then, he’s just here to save the other guys for more important games. Rich makes it, he’s 20.

LAST MAN IN PEN
SP Marshall
SP Trachsel
SP Hart
RP Ohman

The only thing I feel sure about here is Will Ohman is not making the playoff roster. Hill getting on gives the Cubs two lefties in the bullpen. They probably wouldn’t need a third even if #3 didn’t turn into persona-non-grata during the season and hasn’t looked especially effective during the season. They’d go to Marshall first for a lefty anyway, and I’m thinking this spot is completely dependent on how everyone looks in the last six games and who the Cubs are worried about on the other team. Trachsel brings experience, but you can share experience without being on the active roster. Kevin Hart would be the interesting pick, but they’re asking a lot out of a kid who was a non-prospect last year and now is approaching 170 IP on the season.

I’m not sure which way they’ll go on this at all.

RIGHT HANDED POWER OF
OF Monroe
OF Murton

Matt’s been hot of late, but he’s still a defensive liability. Keystone’s looked adequate in CF when platooning with Jacque, and just having him around balances out Jacque’s big weakness against lefties. Craig Monroe should have this spot, though Murton’s not done yet.

CENTER FIELDER/PINCH RUNNER
OF Pie
OF Fuld

Felix is faster, stronger, has a better arm and has the better pedigree for hitting. This should be a no doubt, but Fuld’s played much better and had more highlight plays over the last few weeks. It’s to the point where I would not be surprised if Fuld makes it (and it’d be the perfect punctuation mark for Felix Pie’s 2007 season), but I think they’ll stick with the guy in that’s been in this role all season. Felix Pie gets the 23rd spot.

RESERVE MIDDLE INFIELD
SS Cedeno
2B Fontenot

I would’ve flipped the chart the other way had Cedeno not gone nuts on Sunday. Cedeno with no hitting ability would seem to be a waste, an emergency solution to a problem which is highly unlikely to occur and wouldn’t be the end of the world if it did. Now that there’s some confidence in his hitting, and it wouldn’t be a waste of an out to use him as a pinch hitter, I think Cedeno clearly makes the playoff roster. Fontenot lack of defensive flexibility makes him hard to carry as utility guy.

LAST MAN OFF THE BENCH
OF Murton
2B Fontenot
OF Fuld

Fontenot gives you average (300 this last month with no power and little walks), Fuld will give speed and defense, but when you look at Murton’s numbers this month – 361/425/583 – he can’t be passed up. I don’t think he’ll keep hitting like an player of the month candidate in limited time, but you might as well find out by putting him on the field. I’m not sure the Cubs van

So, what I’ve got is this:

01 CA Soto
02 CA Kendall
03 1B Lee
04 1B Ward
05 2B DeRosa
06 SS Theriot
07 3B Ramirez
08 LF Soriano
09 CF Jones
10 RF Floyd
22 OF Monroe
23 OF Pie
24 SS Cedeno
25 RF Murton

11 SP Z!
12 SP Lilly
13 SP Marquis
20 SP Hill
21 RP Marshall or Trachsel or Hart
14 RP Eyre
15 RP Howry
16 RP Marmol
18 RP Wuertz
19 RP Wood
17 CL Dempster

With no clear standout for that last pitching spot, I’d wonder if the Cubs might be better just skipping all three of the possibilities, bringing along Sam Fuld, and just going nuts with pinch runners and substitutions. There’s a definite way they could use another hitter, and it’s not clear the Cubs would have a lot of use for that last pitching spot in a five game series.

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clinching in the rain

Sep
25

NOTE TO WCIU, COMCAST, WGN: prepare rain delay programming for the next few days…

Miami forecast via Weather Underground
Tonight: Chance of rain 70 percent.
Wednesday Night/Thursday: Chance of rain 60 percent.

What’s with a 4PM local time start on Thursday anyway? So weird.

Game 156: Cubs 8 – Pirates 0

Sep
24

Pirates 66-90, -17
Cubs 83-73, +3.5

POTG: SP Z! (6 IP, 3 H, 0R, 3BB, 6K, W[17/81]; 2B, R)
Runner Up: SS Ronny Cedeno (HR, 3H, 3 RBI), C Geovany Soto (2 H, R, RBI, SF), RF Matt Murton (2 2B, 3 H, R), 1B Derek Lee (2B, HR, 2R, 3RBI), 2B Mark DeRosa (2H, R, RBI, 2B), RP Kerry Wood (2 IP, 0R, 0H, BB, 3K), RP Michael Wuertz (IP, 0R, 3 K)

I don’t want to be in the position of defending cramps, but it was a 6-0 lead against a dead Pirates team. They didn’t Z in there any longer and it’s for the best to save that inning for a little bit longer.

It’s so tempting to make Ronny Cedeno player of the game, because that may never happen again. This was quite a day for a guy who only exists to play if Theriot asks out of a game – and that was never before the back spasms on Sunday. Ronny got one more chance for the season and made a whole lot out of it. Ronny had a good day before the home run, but that clinched his chance to have more good days this season. I think, coupled with any questions about Theriot’s back, Cedeno hit his way onto to the first round playoff roster.

This was a fine day for the Iowa Cub taxi squad. I don’t know if Mr. Soto is dressing in Michael Barrett’s locker, but it seems like he’s completely taken over every other part of Barrett’s role at the start of the season – strong hitting catcher in the six spot – and improved upon it by showing the rare ability to throw baserunners out. He’s become the hybird of Barrett and Blanco everyone wanted from day 1, and the Cubs had him all along. I don’t know if it can keep up, but it’s great right now.

Meanwhile, having Matt Murton around to do nothing but platoon versus left handers is the greatest advantage of a short pitching staff in the playoffs. The Cubs can use everyone they put on their roster and they will use everyone.

Everything’s coming together at the right time. The hitting for power for the bigger guys has been talked about and will be talked about more. It’s also the guys like Murton hitting, it’s Wood and Wuertz being very sharp, it’s everything peaking at the right time.

Cubs ought to finish this in Miami and take the weekend off. Not sure it’s going to quite work out that way, but it’d be excellent.

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Game 155: Cubs 9 – Pittsburgh 5

Sep
23

Pirates 66-89, -16
Cubs 82-73, +2.5

POTG: LF Soriano (2HR [31/239], 3 H, 5 RBI, BB)
Runner Up: 1B D Lee (4 H, HR [19/235], 2 R), 3B A Ram (HR[26/222], 2H, 2RBI), SS Ryan Theriot (3 H, 2 R, SB), LF Sam Fuld (BB, OF A [1/1])

This win and Brewers loss isn’t IT, but it’s very very close to being IT. For the Cubs to end up even in a tie, one of these would have to happen

(Brewers get unnaturally hot)
Brewers go 8-0, Cubs go 5-2
Brewers go 7-1, Cubs go 4-3

(Cubs collapse in a horrible fashion)
Brewers go 6-2, Cubs go 3-4
Brewers go 5-3, Cubs go 2-5
Brewers go 4-4, Cubs go 1-6
Brewers go 3-5, Cubs go 0-7

The Brewers can only lose one more time the rest of the season if they expect to have a shot, and they have much too hard of a schedule to expect something like that happened. You can’t call it over because of what happened in 2003, with just about the same length of lead and time, but yesterday’s events moved the Cubs a lot closer to having non meaningful games versus the Reds.

Since the start of the month, I’ve been looking for the Cubs main hitters to start pulling their power numbers a bit closer, and it seems like they’ve done it all in one week. Soriano’s right about where you’d think he’d be and Ram’s almost there despite the time both of them spent out. While Derek’s probably going to have a disappointing (sub 25) HR total, he’s still making a lot of ground.

I’m a bit worried about the bullpen, because they’ve had a lot of innings to fill of late and that’s going to take a toll. Only 4 of the last 10 starts have gone for six or more innings and the prime bullpen guys have pitched a lot of those makeup innings because the games have been so close. Z finishing off his regular season starts in Wrigley (and possibly his regular season starts entirely if the lead grows a little more) with a 7-8 inning start would be a nice break.

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