Thursday, August 16, 2007

Double trouble: Cubs roll Reds

The Chicago Cubs may have tripled the Reds on the scoreboard in Thursday's 12-4 win, but they did it on doubles. Among the 20-hit outburst put together by the Cubs, 8 were two-base hits including 4 doubles in the first inning.

After a pathetic approach in the final two innings of Wednesday's game, the Cubs' bats came to life -- looking to take some pitches, work some counts and then drill the pitches they did get to hit. Despite not hitting the ball out of the park, the Cubs managed to pour it on the Reds: a four-run first put the Cubs ahead in the beginning and a seven-run seventh sealed it.

Marquis struggled in the second inning of the game, giving up the 4-0 lead his team got for him in the first, but really pitched well the rest of the afternoon. Marquis went six-plus innings, allowing just three hits outside of the nightmare-ish second and really earned his tenth win of the season, making the Cubs the second in the league to three 10-game winners.

Ryan Theriot continued to impress, collecting three hits (two doubles) while scoring three times and driving in two himself. Mark DeRosa stepped up after being put in the two-hole, pounding a career-high five hits (one double) and knocking home four runs, while Ramirez and Jones contributed four-hit and two-double performances. Among the 20 Cubs hits, however, Derrek Lee has responsible for none of them, going 0-for-5. Maybe it's time to sit Lee for a few games and give Daryle Ward a few at-bats.

Aside from the offense, the bullpen also impressed me as well. Scott Eyre pitched out of a scary situation when he entered the game with a man on base and nobody out in what was then a one-run ballgame. Slowly but surely, Eyre appears to be the same trustworthy reliever he was last year. Carmen Pignatiello finally made his Major League debut, tossing a scoreless inning and Ryan Dempster, though shaky, also twirled up a goose egg. The only concern about the bullpen I have is for tomorrow's game. Rich Hill has averaged less than five and a half innings per start since June 17 and I would have to assume that both Wood and Pignatiello are unavailable tomorrow.

While Wood didn't pitch in today's game, he was up in the bullpen making it the second straight day that he's thrown. Carmen Pignatiello was asked to throw in each of the last two games before actually coming into the game today, so today was three in a row for him. Marmol and Howry better be ready to go.

Nonetheless, it feels good to have snapped the four-game skid. The Cardinals helped the Cubs pull within 1/2 game of the division lead by sweeping the first-place Brewers, but now St. Louis trails the division by just 2 1/2 themselves -- the closest they've been to first place since April 16 when they were 7-9 and Houston was pacing the division. In fact, the Cardinals trail by just one game in the loss column!

Initially I thought that maybe I wanted the Cardinals to win just two of three against the Brewers, but after seeing that we were only able to take one game from Cincinnati, the sweep definitely was the best-case scenario for the Cubs. After all, now we have a chance to put some distance between ourselves and the Cardinals; St. Louis is 28-33 on the road and 3-5 against the Cubs.

Looking ahead: After the last week to ten days, the Cardinals made it very clear that they are alive and kicking in this race. Also in the past week to ten days, the Brewers have made it very clear that they have no intention to win the division. I have a feeling that this race might ultimately become a two-team race, but not the two teams we all expected it would be about a month ago. But until it does become a two-team race, we should keep our focus on winning ballgames and having the Brewers lose. After all, they are still in first place.

The next four days will be very interesting. If the Cardinals can win the series, they would have at least a share of second place in the division while every time we win creates more space between us and St. Louis. Hopefully after these four days are up, we'll be in first place and we won't have to worry about watching the scoreboard as much.

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