Happy Independence Day!
It's been a wee bit since Ivy's last roundup, but she's attending to family matters at the moment and your positive thoughts are welcome. So here's me (yay?) picking up the slack for the last few series before the Cubs head back home to face the division-leading Pittsburgh Pirates (srsly wtf) on Friday...
Cubs @ Brewers, June 25-27
In the first game in Milwaukee, the Cubs finally gave Starlin Castro a day off (boy has he been struggling this year!) and had Cody Ransom (!!!) playing shortstop. Nate Schierholtz did his part to eventually get traded, spotting Edwin Jackson three runs on a homer, but that wasn't nearly enough as Edwin got shelled for six runs. Hector Rondon and Shawn Camp decided to cough up some extra runs just for fun, and the Cubs dropped the opener 9-3.
Game two saw the return of Castro to the lineup, and Castro actually had some very good at-bats, including two hits while scoring a run. So did Anthony Rizzo, who had a solid night with a couple hits and two runs batted in. Former Cub legend Aramis Ramirez tortured Cubs pitching just a tad, but Scott Feldman (now traded), James Russell and Carlos Villanueva did their part in getting the game to new Closer Extraordinaire Kevin Gregg, who gave up some very hard-hit balls but nailed down the save. Cubs won 5-4, and the fact that they knocked around Yovani Gallardo probably did wonders to Matt Garza's trade value.
Game three had Matt Garza (speak of the devil!), another trade chip, on the mound and he didn't disappoint by going seven full innings and helping his own cause with two hits. Cubs pitching has been incredible at the plate this year, it'd be nice if the rest of the lineup followed suit. Anyway, the Cubs won the game 7-2, and took the series from the host Brewers. The lead was so large that not even the Cubs' crappy bullpen could mess it up.
Cubs @ Mariners, June 28-30
The Cubs managed to miss Felix Hernandez on this trip (bummer) and had Travis Wood going up against almost-as-awesome Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Alfonso Soriano was the designated hitter and found his groove with a mammoth home run, and the Cubs finally got to Iwakuma for four runs and allowed Wood to position himself for that elusive win (because win-loss record is a sign of #TWTW). However, James Russell had other ideas, blowing his FIFTH save opportunity of the season (showing that the save stat is dumb, but also that Russell isn't as good as we might think) and unfortunately, the Cubs lost in extras when Shawn Camp's toe (or just general suckiness) couldn't prevent the winning run from scoring in extras off Mike Zunino's bat. Bummer.
In game two, Jeff Samardzija and those awesome throwback uniforms got the nod. The Cubs only managed three runs against Aaron Harang (who is still alive and pitching!) to help Samardzija after some early hiccups, but Kevin Gregg blew his first save since he was reinstalled as the Cubs' Closer Emeritus. However, the Cubs managed to break through against the surprisingly effective Oliver Perez (yes, that one) when Alfonso Soriano destroyed a baseball. Blake Parker, who will likely get the closer's job as Darth Gregg's apprentice when Gregg is traded, got his first save of the season. Did I mention that the uniforms were awesome?
In the final game, Edwin Jackson came back with a good quality start, finishing six innings and started the seventh when he ran into issues. The Cubs had spotted him seven runs, mostly off the reanimated corpse of Jeremy Bonderman, but eventually, our crappy bullpen decided to give most of it back. This could be Shawn Camp's last stand. Thankfully, that didn't happen, and thanks to Kevin Gregg nailing down yet another save, the Cubs won the game and their third straight series. Hurray!
Cubs @ A's, July 2-4
This is a particularly fun series for me since I grew up in the SF-Oakland Bay Area and the A's are a prime example of what a particularly motivated GM with an eye and a nose for good talent can do with not a lot of money.
Now that the A's pumped away all that raw sewage that was making Moneyball stink, the Cubs could come into town and have some fun. Unfortunately, they were without Scott Feldman (Carlos Marmol had also been traded) so Chris Rusin got the spot start in game one and didn't do as hot as we would've liked, giving up a couple homers but miraculously limiting the damage to just three runs before he left the game early (due to precaution since he was on three days' rest, as well as sucking). Carlos Villanueva, who would be stretched out to reclaim the rotation spot vacated by Feldman, would come in and unfortunately gave up two unearned runs due to a miscommunication between Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano in the vast expanses of the O.co Coliseum outfield and foul territory. Prior to that goof, Soriano had tied the game with a three-run bomb and two more runs were tacked on with some timely hitting. The Cubs would go ahead on a two-run double-TOOTBLAN by Welington Castillo that was actually pretty smart on Beef Castle's part because if he hadn't drawn the throw, Brian Bogusevic would've been out at the plate. Unfortunately, James Russell suddenly can't even get left-handers out, walking Josh Reddick to put two on in the bottom of the eighth. Russell was left in to face a right-handed hitter in Derek Norris, and that was the eventual game-winner and another blown save as the Cubs couldn't score after that, dropping the opener 8-7. I am going to argue that James Russell probably shouldn't be allowed to face a righty in a high leverage situation for a while.
To circumvent the whole James Russell sucking issue, Matt Garza (in possibly his last start as a Cub) decided to go eight full innings while giving up just one run on a homer to Brandon Moss. Starlin Castro got on base three times and had quality at-bats every time up. Kevin Gregg got yet another save. Cubs won game two 3-1. TRADE NAO! (Bonus randomness: the Cubs did not strike out once in this game--first time since 2006 according to Len Kasper. Wow.)
Could the Cubs do the almost-unthinkable and win another series, this time against an actual contender? Travis Wood got the start today before our BBQs and rockets red glare. Wood got into a mini-jam in the second inning but pitched out of it. It's amazing how well he's doing this year, and I often wonder when it'll all crash down, like when will the BABIP normalize etc. Tons of fly balls today! Strikeouts are good too. Another good quality start for Wood, giving way to new acquisition Matt Guerrier. Guerrier did get two outs but the go-ahead run scored on a passed ball by Welington Castillo (boo!). Could've been worse if Beef Castle hadn't thrown out a baserunner. New guy Pedro Strop also came in for an inning and got two outs on the first batter, once when the ump forgot to properly call time and almost started a fight with manager Dale Sveum, and again on a deep flyout. Strop got another couple outs without the ump calling time. It's worth noting that Strop looked a hell of a lot better than Guerrier did, so that Carlos Marmol trade is still a bit of a mystery.
Starlin Castro got thrown out on what should've been a good send by third base coach David Bell, except Yoenis Cespedes has an insane arm. Alfonso Soriano, who could've had that RBI hit, also got himself thrown out trying to steal second. Not a good baserunning game for the Cubs, some of it the result of bad luck but mostly poor execution. In between just getting two hits, not scoring on that would-be Soriano RBI hit, and giving up that one run, the Cubs dropped the game 1-0 and also lost the series.
In a random occurrence, Julio Borbon replaced Brian Bogusevic at center field in the bottom of the third inning with initially no reason and so seamlessly that not even Len Kasper and Jim DeShaies noticed until Borbon made a couple catches that inning. Not even Gameday realized that the change occurred. An injury would have been reported right away, at least I think so. Therefore the speculation was that Bogusevic had been traded for something. Unfortunately:
Tight hamstring for Bogusevic. Probably kills trade value.
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) July 4, 2013
Also, I hope they never use those terrible Fourth of July caps again. Just wear an American flag patch, MLB.
Going Forward: Pirates @ Cubs, July 5-7
Going back to last year, at Game 83, the Cubs were 32-51, 14 games back of the division leader Pittsburgh Pirates (!!!). This season, the Pirates have the best record in the majors, even better than 2012 (slightly less likely to crash and burn), so the deficit is the same, but the Cubs (36-47) actually have a better record than in 2012. Progress!
Since everyone's getting traded (I bet the Cubs try to trade a couple ball boys for international slot money or a PTBNL if they could get away with it) it probably doesn't do any good to tell you what the next set of pitching matchups are. You can always check here for updates. It might not even be surprising if the starter for the series opener, Jeff Samardzija, is randomly traded for a smargasbord of impact prospects, but that's more of a long shot so don't freak out just yet.
As for the games themselves, go to glorious Wrigley Field!
Friday, July 5 - 3:05 PM (suck it, Lakeview!), TV = CSN
Saturday, July 6 - 3:05 PM, TV = WGN
Sunday, July 7 - 1:20 PM, TV = WGN
All games broadcast on WGN Radio AM 720 with Pat Hughes and Keith Moreland. Go Cubs! Now go off and blow up a piece of America (responsibly!) to celebrate our independence!