sweetlou.jpgStepping Up

What a difference a week can make. Your Chicago Cubs were able to gain four games on the Milwaukee Brewers and two on the Redbirds to move the trailers to five and six games back, respectively. It all started with the huge four-game series at Miller Park, where the Cubs shocked all of baseball and Baseball Tonight’s Buck Showalter by sweeping the Beermakers in their own backyard. As I posted last week, I really felt like the key was forcing Sabathia, Sheets and Parra to throw deep into counts, raising their pitch count early in the game and forcing the Brewers to use their overworked, sub-par bullpen. Let’s take a look:

Monday

After throwing three complete games in each of his last three starts, Ned Yost decided to throw Big C.C. for 124 pitches. Sabathia exited in the seventh and the Cubs were able to re-take the lead thanks to Ricky Weeks’ loose fielding. In the ninth, the Cubs exploited the Brewers’ closer, Solomon Torres, for two additional runs forcing Yost to burn his best bullpen arm for nearly 40 pitchers in the opening game of a four-game set. It was Torres’ only appearance in the entire series. Not only did this game set the tone for the entire series, Yost was once-again outmanaged by Sweet Lou. Yost seemed overanxious the entire series, managing the first game of the set as if it was a win-or-go home playoff contest. By not using Durham as a late inning defensive replacement for Weeks, overusing Sabathia (anyone notice how uncomfortable pitching coach Mike Maddux was when Yost left him out there in the seventh?) and putting his closer on the mound in a tie game, Yost proved he has some learning to do. Eventually, his players would reflect this perceived desperation, but more on that later…

Tuesday

Sheets vs. Zambrano: The first two pitchers used in the all-star game for the National League. Until the sixth inning, this matchup was as advertised, the only scoring coming in the fourth on a DeRo sac fly. Then, in the sixth frame, Sheets hit a wall. All of a sudden, Sheets had thrown 100 pitches and had only completed 5 1/3 inning. When the dust (barley? hops?) cleared, the Chicago club led 6-0. Led by four hits and three doubles from Aramis, the Cubs offense posted six or more runs for the third game in a row, and it started to look like the tide was turning.

Wednesday

The Cubs had already guaranteed themselves a split, but with Dempster and Harden scheduled to throw the next two games, whispers of a sweep started around Cubbie blogs and water coolers. Manny Parra was the Brewers’ starter on Wednesday, and Parra is a good looking young arm. He mixes three pitches well and has a smooth delivery. The Cubs struck for two in the first inning and never relinquished the lead. Once again, defense was an issue for the Brew Crew, as the first inning runs came on a passed ball and a Prince Fielder drop. The Cubs continued running on weak-armed Jason Kendall, and in the sixth put it away when Ryan TheRiot tripled and Reed Johnson singled him home. It was in this sixth inning when the two-day Milwaukee meltdown began. Parra is a hothead, and his frustration was visible as he exited having gone no further than Sheets the evening before. On Theriot’s triple, the ball easily could have been cut off by rightfielder Corey Hart , who loafed over to the gap only to see the ball squirt past him and go all the way to the wall. A glance around the field and in the Brewer dugout revealed nothing but the tops of their caps.

Thursday

With a foot on the Brewers’ throats and a very favorable pitching matchup in Harden (1.11 ERA) vs. Bush (4.69 ERA), the brooms were out. Past Cub teams would have had a letdown in this game, but not in 2008. The Cubs erupted for eleven runs, and the Brewers lost what little integrity they had left. With the score 11-1, Eric Gagne was brought into the game to throw at Jimmy Edmonds, who had burned the Beermakers for two round-trippers, including a fourth inning grand salami. After Gagne was ejected, Prince Fielder took out his frustrations and was tossed as well. The game was delayed as the great son of Cecil refused to leave the dugout. The series was over: A four-game sweep. The Cubs moved from one game ahead of Milwaukee to five, hopefully sending a message that will carry them into October. There’s a long way to go and Milwaukee wound up bouncing back against the worst Braves team in 15 years, but this was one of the most impressive Cub performances in my lifetime on such a big stage.

The Weekend

The Pirates rolled into town and after the standard doormat-after-huge-series letdown game, the Cubs took two of three from the Bay-less and Nady-less Bucs. Side Note: in my opinion, the Pirates continue to be one of the most mis(general)managed teams in baseball. You just don’t give up arguably your best player (Jason Bay) and the underrated Xavier Nady for fringe or good prospects. Pittsburgh! See: Florida or Oakland. If you’re trading the best on your team, at least ask for ONE sure thing in return. There were no Hanley Ramirezes or Francisco Lirianos in either of your trade return packages. Wow. I guess you’ll just stay in the cellar. I guess it’s OK with me that Nady and his 6 RBI performance was in NYC on Sunday.

Ahead…

The weeks starts with three against Houston, then a much-needed day off and then three against the Cardinals, all at Wrigley. A good showing to finish off this homestand is important. The bats have to stay hot and we have to hit Brian Moehler for once! The Cardinals played Atlanta tough, taking three out of four, but then dropped two of three to Philly. At six games back they may seem out of it, but with Carpenter back and Wainright returning, do NOT count them out this early.

Skip Caray

Before I sign off, a shout to the late Skip Caray (son of Harry) who passed away yesterday. Skip was a great voice for the game and someone I really enjoyed listening to on TBS now and again. I’m sure he’s sharing a Budweiser with Harry as I type this…you’ll be missed.