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Four...That's the Magic Number
by Derek Smart
It's indicative of the way a season's been going when having your first win streak of four or more games comes at the end of May and sparks rampant gleeful giggles. Still, that was the cumulative effect of the last four days on me, and I imagine, many of you.
I'd prefer that runs of success this long were so commonplace as to elicit little more than a smirking yawn, but that's not the way things are breaking this year, so I'll happily take this tiny bit of glee in an otherwise disturbing season, enjoy that the club has pulled itself out of its self-dug hole for the time being, and hope that this is only the beginning of something even better.
As I buzz along on the high that victory brings, some random notes from the extra long weekend, in no particular order:
I got my first look at Joe Borowski on Sunday, and while he managed to get through his inning only giving up one hit and striking out two, I didn't much care for what I saw. Without the velocity he once had on his fastball, an effective slider is extra important to JoBo's future success, and the one I witnessed was flat and up in the zone a lot, begging to get creamed.
The fact that nothing he threw got hit particularly hard looked like it had more to do with surprise and incompetence on the part of the Rockies' batsmen than any great display of skill on Joe's part. They appeared to be genuinely shocked that certain pitches stayed strikes, and that others were thrown at all, the best example being the 3-2 pitch that struck out Desi Relaford swinging - a slider so flat, so high, that Relaford likely didn't realize what it was until he had swung through it.
On Sunday, Borowski got by on being so bad that he was deceptive, and while I don't know if this outing was similar to what he's been doing thus far, this is the sort of work that will only be effective until enough folks get a look at him. Once that happens, he's going to get pounded, and unless he figures out how to get that bite back, and fast, he's going to get lit up like a gasoline soaked Christmas tree.
Very scary moment in the fifth inning of last night's game, particularly in light of recent events, when Cesar Izturis ripped a ball right up the middle that nearly drilled Greg Maddux in the face. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that there are a lot of pitchers who wouldn't have made it out of the way of that screamer.
I can think of no pitcher in recent memory who comes out of their delivery more ready to move than Maddux, and it was precisely that readiness that saved him from some instant plastic surgery. Of course, few pitchers come out of their delivery so centrally located on the mound, so one could make the argument that the aspect of his motion that saved him also put him more conspicuously in harm's way on that play.
Still, I'd rather be in way of a ball like that but ready to move than be off balance when a differently placed ball is coming to rearrange my nose.
Had I gotten around to writing after the Cubs' loss on Thursday, I would have likely had something to say about the recent struggles of The Savior, Mr. Lee. Maybe I would have mentioned that he'd been 4 for 25 over the last 8 games. I might have even said that all four of those hits were singles, and that despite his 4 walks over that span, that he'd shown a distinct lack of discipline, swinging very early in at bats, seemingly pressing to get the team out of its offensive doldrums single-handedly.
Well, apparently even thinking about such blasphemous scribblings gets The Savior riled, as he blew up during the final three games of the Colorado series, going 8 for 10 with 4 walks, 4 home runs, 7 RBIs, and 8 runs scored. It was as if he simply willed himself to get locked back in, and once he'd done that, off he went, saving helpless Cubs where e'r he wandered.
I don't think I've had this much fun watching a Cub player do his thing since the long past days of Good Sammy, and for my sake and that of the Cubs, I hope we don't see the end anytime soon.
Another thing I might have mentioned were I not so lazy and perturbed, was that Aramis looked about ready to break out of his slump. I know, it's easy to say that now that he's had a single, double, and home run in each of the last two games, but the signs were there, just like they were with Michael Barrett earlier in the year.
When Ramirez was struggling early, not only wasn't he getting hits, but nearly any contact he made was weak. When he did hit the ball hard, it seemed more like an accident than anything else. But lately, the ball has been jumping off his bat, and even though they weren't falling for hits until the last few days, he was doing a better job of getting solid wood on the ball than at any other time of the season. What we're seeing is a natural evolution from struggle, to success, and it's success the Cubs need badly to have any chance of making a similar success out of this season.
In his last two starts against the Cubs, Wilson Alvarez had held them scoreless over 14.2 innings, while allowing only nine hits, one walk, and striking out fourteen. He's precisely the type of "crafty" pitcher this team tends to have problems with, which is why it was so encouraging to see the Cubs get those same nine hits in only 5 innings, while scoring five runs in the process.
I'm not foolish enough to think the Cubs have figured out how to beat this type of pitcher - Alvarez was obviously off his game, getting a lot of balls in hitters' yummy zones - but I can't help but enjoy seeing them capitalize on his mistakes. It's a sign that the gents are clicking - when they aren't, those mistakes get fouled off or even swung through - and with everything that's gone wrong of late, it's pleasant to think that something may be going right.
While the offense has certainly come of life of late, I think it's also important to note, in light of all the handwringing about the state of the bullpen, that the last four games have seen the relief corps allow only 3 runs over 14.1 innings. That's a 1.88 ERA for those of you scoring at home, and I'll take that any time.
It's Big Z and Brad Penny, toe to toe in a battle of heavyweights. A victory in this game means a guarantee that the Cubs are over .500 when they get to San Diego, and with the way the Padres are playing of late, that's an important thing to have in your pocket.