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On the Homefront 2008 - Week 4
by Derek Smart
Not a great week, not a bad week. The Cubs started off continuing to score a ton of runs, but it was by the skin of their teeth, often coming through with big hits at the last possible moment. Later on, those opportunities were still there, just with less clutchitudinal action. I like to think this was a blip on the radar screen and that, come Tuesday, we'll see some more tallies on the board.
Game 19 Opponent: New York Result: Win Score: 7-1 Big Play: Ronny Cedeno's two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the eighth. It was a close game up to that point, and after Mark DeRosa and Geovany Soto both failed to get anything done with the sacks full, it looked like a potential momentum changing moment for the Mets. That's when Cedeno stepped up, had a great at bat, and delivered the death blow. Big Player: Carlos Zambrano threw seven innings of one-run ball, holding the Mets down after Aramis Ramirez gave him the lead in the first with his two-run shot. Anytime Z starts, there's an approximately 95% chance he'll be the guy I talk about here. He's been that good. We'll talk about this game next year because: It was the most hard-fought six-run win the team's likely to have all season.
Game 20 Opponent: New York Result: Win Score: 8-1 Big Play: If the Cubs have the bases loaded in the bottom on the eighth and blow their shot to score with only one out, who else can be coming to the plate but Ronny Cedeno. This time, it was his grand slam that broke the game wide open Big Player: This is tough. There's Cedeno and his 5 RBI, there's Lilly and his wriggling out of trouble all day - even if he was a little lucky at times, but since I'm forcing myself to choose, I'll go with the guy who went to the plate five times and didn't make an out - Kosuke Fukudome. We'll talk about this game next year because: As poorly as they played in this series, and despite the brevity of the encounter, it was still the 'NL Favorite' Mets the Cubs swept, and after all the talk about the Cubs' soft schedule to this point, seeing domination on this scale was an affirming experience to say the least.
Game 21 Opponent: Colorado Result: Win Score: 7-6 Big Play: As important as Ryan Theriot's game-winning single was, the real moment of truth was when Aramis Ramirez found the Cubs two outs from defeat in the top of the ninth, and turned the tables with his two-run homer that gave the Cubs a brief one-run lead. It didn't provide the final margin of victory, but without it, the win couldn't have been achieved. Big Player: Geovany Soto went 4-5 with a double and a homer. He's hitting seventh most days, but I'd be shocked if he didn't eventually switch spots with current sixth hitter, Mark DeRosa. We'll talk about this game next year because: This victory was a great example of how this team refuses to give up.
Game 22 Opponent: Colorado Result: Loss Score: 4-2 Big Play: Ryan Theriot's bobble on what could have been an inning-ending, tie-saving double play in the bottom of the eighth. On a day where the Cubs couldn't get anything going against Aaron Cook, everything had to go perfectly to Big Player: Jason Marquis had his second consecutive solid start, lasting seven innings and giving up only two runs. His performance kept the Cubs in striking distance all day, and with the way the offense has performed thus far, that's really all you can ask. We'll talk about this game next year because: Sometimes, you just want to cry a little.
Game 23 Opponent: Washington Result: Loss Score: 5-3 Big Play: Wil Neives' game-ending, first Major League, two-run homer. Big Player: No one was particularly good in this game, so I suppose you have to give it to the guy who ended it. Bobby Howry. Wil Neives We'll talk about this game next year because: If you've seen a better catch than Reed Johnson's all-out sprint over roughly 3/4 of Virginia, ending in a diving, death-wish, snow-cone grab and wall collision, then it's because you've been watching film of Willie Mays.
Game 24 Opponent: Washington Result: Win Score: 7-0 Big Play: Mark DeRosa's first inning, one-out, bases-loaded single upped the Cubs' lead to a comfortable three runs. Once the Cubs hit that margin with Big Z on the mound, they were in the driver's seat. Big Player: Remember what I said earlier about games Zambrano starts? Well, it's no exception here. Tossing seven totally dominant shutout innings will do that for a fella, even when he nearly doubles his YTD walk total in the process. This was vintage 'Good Z', where his pitches moved so much, not even he knew where they were going, and while I love seeing the 'New Z' we've had the pleasure of witnessing most of this year, I won't be upset if this iteration shows up every five or six starts, just for old time's sake. We'll talk about this game next year because: It wrapped up in dominant fashion Carlos Zambrano's best April ever.
Game 25 Opponent: Washington Result: Loss Score: 2-0 Big Play: Ryan Theriot's inning-ending, bases-loaded, fifth-inning GIDP. Anything but a double-play at least keeps the inning alive for Derrek Lee, so even if Theriot doesn't drive anyone in himself, merely making one out keeps the bases loaded for the Cubs' best hitter. Losing this opportunity to drive in a run, or allow Lee to bat with runners in scoring position was a huge blow to the club's chances. Big Player: John Lannan gets the nod this time, because while he didn't always stay in the strike zone, he managed to keep the ball out of dangerous parts of it, which turned out to be more important. The Cubs put runners on base, but could never square anything up to drive the ball and get those men across the plate, and as much as I'd like to put that on the Cubs, I think Lannan's work was the real difference. We'll talk about this game next year because: It was the first time the Cubs were shut out, and will be a source of discussion because of the rarity of the feat.
The Week That Was
The bad news is, the Cubs had three games where they scored three or fewer runs, all of them losses. The good news is, the pitching staff had a fantastic week, with all of the starters having solid to spectacular efforts, the worst of which being either Rich Hill's five inning, two-run effort in Game 21, or Ryan Dempster's seven inning, three-run (two earned) effort in Game 23. When those are the bad outings, something's going right.
The offense will come back around - the opportunities were there in all but one of their losses - but seeing the starting staff have such a nice week after all their early struggles makes the tight losses a little easier to take.