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A couple of interesting notes while waiting for the first series in 50-years between 100-loss clubs to play out this afternoon at Wrigley Field.
The Astros (54-106) at Cubs (60-101) series marks the first time since 1962 triple-digit loss teams have squared off against one another…and the Cubs, not surprisingly, were also part of that history with its (59-103) record taking on the lowly expansion Mets (40-120). Good grief.
MARK DeROSA: Davey Johnson penciled former Cub Mark DeRosa into the Nationals’ starting lineup against the Phillies Tuesday night.
That’s hardly news worthy, except for the fact DeRosa was the starting shortstop–a position he hasn’t played since doing so for a single inning while with Chicago in 2008.
DeRosa’s last start at SS came with Texas in 2006. D-Ro (.198, 0 HR, 6 RBI) finished last night’s game 2-for-4 with a double in the Nats’ 4-2 win at Washington.
ADAM GREENBERG: Very cool to watch Adam Greenberg’s at-bat with the Marlins. It was a quick, three strikes and yer’ out…but exciting and heart-felt, nonetheless.
Although some might feel Greenberg was dealt a tough break facing knuckleballer RA Dickey, I think it may have been a blessing.
With the odds already terribly low Greenberg gets a base knock in his lone at-bat, striking out against a legitimate stud like Dickey should add more closure to Greenberg’s career than had he whiffed against say, Chris Volstad. Whereas there’s absolutely no shame in Greenberg fanning against the NL leader in strikeouts and potential Cy Young Award winner.
And is it just me, or do you get the feeling this isn’t Greenberg’s last stop in the major leagues? I think there’s a real chance he ends up on a big league spring roster…you never know.
VIDEO: Here’s a terrific video recapping the 20-years of futility for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who enter the season finale (79-82). Click here
And here’s a funny blurb about the Buccos from BaconSports.com with a slight Cubs reference:
“The Pirates have been nothing short of a Milton Bradley disaster in the second half of the season and seem as likely to win 5 of their next 6 games as Rae Carruth has at starting at WR for the Carolina Panthers this Sunday.”
Here’s a quick overview of the National League Central’s postseason race as we’ve reached the final month of the regular season…
The Reds’ Magic Number is (18), the lowest of any division leader in baseball. They lead the Cardinals by 8.5 games and stand to win the division running away.
Cincy’s starting pitching has been incredibly durable this year, but it’s the lights-out bullpen that’s the difference-maker.
Marshall to Broxton to Chapman is as close as it gets to a sure victory with a late-inning lead, and the Cuban Missile has found his groove having converted his last 27 save chances–a franchise record.
There’s also plenty of offensive fire-power to go along with the pitching, as evidence by the club’s (32-16) record during the absence of Joey Votto, who was activated yesterday but did not play.
I’ve been on the record since spring training with Cincinnati as my favorite to win the division. Now I’m on the record as saying they’re my favorite to win it all in the National League this October.
Either way, there’s no ignoring the job Dusty Baker’s done in Cincinnati, which could earn him the NL Manager of the Year Award.
As much as I’d enjoy writing the Cardinals will miss the postseason, I still think they’ll earn a wild card.
While there’s little chance St. Louis catches the Reds, they do lead the NL in runs scored and the starting staff is plenty strong to hold off the wild card competition.
There’s also building speculation the seemingly indestructible Chris Carpenter will return to the rotation before season’s end.
Who knows how effective he’ll be after returning from a procedure to relieve his thoracic outlet syndrome (numbness), but it could be a key ingredient to securing a playoff spot if he’s indeed healthy down the stretch.
Per the usual, however, the Cardinals just win, always finding a way when there’s no clear path.
The Pirates’ listless second half continues. Although the Bucs are a mere 1.0 game out of the wild card, I’ve anticipated for weeks their season was about to get worse before it got better.
Those feeling have proven true with the Buccos relinquishing a 3.5 games lead in the wild card after posting a (7-17) record since August 9th.
The starting rotation is looking more tattered and thinned by the game. James McDonald has struggled with consistency after a brilliant first half. Wandy Rodriguez (3-4), acquired at the trade deadline, has basically been a bust. AJ Burnett (15-5) remains the lone bright spot on a starting staff that has allowed only seven fewer runs than the Cubs.
Only the Reds and Braves, however, have a stronger bullpen than Pittsburgh’s. But a faulty rotation has led to the pen’s overuse since the trade deadline, and it shows with the Pirates having allowed the most runs in August of any contender.
Pitching isn’t the only hole on this sinking ship; Pittsburgh is 11th in runs scored since the All Star break—not nearly good enough to keep up with the big boys in September.
That issue could have been resolved at the trading deadline, but Pittsburgh simply failed to add the offensive boost is so desperately needed to stay in contention.
The organization’s unwillingness to move prospects via trade is likely to pay off as early as next season, but it killed any momentum they had entering August.
With each passing week it becomes more clear how much the Pirates overachieved in the first half of the season when they led the division at the All Star break.
But this early feel-good story has become eerily similar to the club’s second half collapse last season when the Pirates led the division 100-games in only to finish with a 90-loss record.
A demise to such depths won’t happen this year (there’s only 37-games remaining), but I feel confident the Buccos (71-64) will eventually end up below the .500 mark for a saddening 20th consecutive year.
Considering the Cubs were pummeled in Milwaukee this week, I decided to use the team’s off day as a chance to talk about something other than rookie pitchers, strikeouts looking and general bad baseball, which pretty much eliminates a Cubs article.
Instead, today’s post is about a more compelling story in the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates, a club I’ve kept my eye on since they became a trendy pick this spring as a possible surprise playoff contender in the National League.
The origins of this hype began last season when Pittsburgh held the division lead through the first 100-games of the season. A second half decline of legendary proportions, however, didn’t faze all the baseball pundits over the winter, despite Pittsburgh finishing the 2011 campaign with a 90-loss record.
THE 2012 PITTSBURGH PIRATES
When the Pirates took two of three games at St. Louis over the weekend I began wondering if the other shoe to Pittsburgh’s magical season would ever drop?
I had been anticipating the Pirates decline even since they were leading the NL Central at the All Star break (48-37). Pittsburgh simply lacked the fire-power needed in its lineup to fend-off its much deeper divisional foes in St. Louis and Cincinnati.
But less than two weeks after the mid-summer break the Pirates were still in position to become buyers before the non-waiver trade deadline–something not seen in western Pennsylvania in two decades.
With the right trades, perhaps, Pittsburgh could keep its heart-warming story of reaching the postseason alive through September.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE THE TRADE DEADLINE?
On July 25 Pittsburgh trailed first place Cincinnati by only 2.5 games. But on the same day the club also completed a blockbuster trade for starter Wandy Rodriguez, which culminated with a four-game winning streak (beginning with the Cubs, no less).
Six days later at the July 31 trade deadline the Pirates dealt for Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez to bolster its lineup. The first place Reds, with a 3.0 games lead, remained well within striking distance. But did the Pirates get enough in its trade returns to hold steady?
The answer appears to be a resounding ‘no’. Rodriguez has been a flat bust going (1-3, 5.06) while Snider and Sanchez have combined for just one HR & six RBI in 104 at-bats.
The Pirates, not surprisingly, have played sub-.500 baseball since the trade deadline (8-13) while its second half record also dipped below .500 (19-20) after suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Padres this week.
Meanwhile, the Reds (76-49) have risen to the second best record in baseball while increasing its division cushion over Pittsburgh to 8.5 games, not to mention, the surging Cardinals jumped the Buccos in the standings this week.
WHAT ABOUT THE WILD CARD?
Atlanta (71-53) and St. Louis (67-56) currently hold the two wild card spots. The Dodgers and Pirates share identical (67-57) records and sit a half game back of the Cardinals.
If the wild and dramatic finish to the 2011 regular season taught us anything, it’s that much can change over the final 40-games.
In Pittsburgh’s case, however, I’m feeling more certain they’ll soon be out of the postseason race altogether and less certain they’ll maintain a season record above .500, a mark the club has failed to accomplish in the last 19 seasons.
If the other shoe to the Pirates season hasn’t hit the floor already, it’s definitely falling fast. Sound familiar, Cubs fans?
Not gonna lie. I was slightly disappointed Adrian Cardenas singled to break up AJ Burnett’s no-hit bid Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
Of course, I never want to see the Cubs get no-hit, but I’ve long dreamed of witnessing a big league no-hitter in person and last night looked as good as ever.
With the Pirates seemingly having the game in hand, leading 5-0 heading to the bottom of the eighth, something extremely unusual happened: my alliances shifted heavily towards seeing history rather than a Cubs win.
Burnett sat the Cubs down with ease 1-2-3 through the first three innings as it became clearly evident from my seat in section 419 the Buccos Ace was on top of his game.
Eleven straight Cubs batters were retired before I finally marked down Chicago’s first base runner on my scorecard–Anthony Rizzo’s two-out walk in the fourth.
At that time, however, I still had visions of a Cubs come-from-behind win (trailing 4-0). But after Soriano struck out to end the inning and Burnett then breezed through the fifth 1-2-3, the first thought of a no-hit bid entered my mind.
David DeJesus drew a two-out walk in the sixth and I figured the heart of the Cubs order would somehow manage a hit, but Starlin flew out to end the inning.
Rizzo, Soriano & LaHair went down in order in the seventh. I started counting outs–six more to go. Steve Clevenger grounded out to first leading off the bottom of the eighth–five outs to go.
Then Burnett lost control of a breaking ball that plunked Darwin Barney in the head. It was the first real sign of the righty losing steam. But the no-hitter remained intact.
Jeff Baker came in to replace Barney at first base and Louis Valbuena stepped to the plate. Strikeout swinging. Four outs away.
Burnett’s 7.2 innings was by far the deepest I had ever witnessed a no-hitter in person.
OTHER CLOSE PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS
In 1997 I remember watching Reds’ rookie Brett Tomko last 4.1 no-hit innings against the Pirates. The 24-year-old was dealing until Jose Guillen broke it up with a single to right field (Dale Sveum followed with an RBI knock!).
Then during the 2003 season I saw Kerry Wood at his best sitting down the first 16 Reds batters he faced before a largely unknown bench player, Reggie Taylor, entered the game as a pinch-hitter and muscled a soft liner just over the outstretched glove of SS Mark Grudzielanek. There were two outs in the sixth inning.
Wouldn’t you know the same held true this evening when a little known rookie came to the plate, worked a full count, and hit a hard, clean single to right field. Base hit, Cardenas.
I could only smile, clap for Cardenas and then give Burnett a standing-O. He deserved one, after all, and to the credit of those in attendance last night, the majority of the crowd also rose to its feet to applaud Burnett’s gem before the mass exodus from the stands ensued.
I stuck it out, of course, while Burnett fanned two of the final four Cubs hitters to notch a complete game, one-hit shutout while improving his season record to (13-3).
Meanwhile, the Cubs impressive streak of not being no-hit since the great Sandy Koufax turned the trick with the Dodgers against Chicago in September 1965, dodged a close bullet.
Nearly as impressive is the last no-hitter at Wrigley Field coming by the performance of Milt Pappas against San Diego in 1972. Safe on all counts, thanks to Cardenas.
Burnett came painfully close to ending both streaks in one night, but as in life, some things just aren’t meant to be.
Maybe someday I’ll be fortunate enough to witness the always elusive no-hitter. But next time, I’d truly prefer to be rooting for the Cubs than against them.
When Carlos Marmol beaned Derrek Lee on August 3 last season, fracturing his left wrist, I began wondering if it was the beginning of the end of Lee’s career?
Age was already taking its toll on the then 35-year-old who was hitting .246 for Baltimore before the Pirates came calling on July 30.
However, a switch back to the National League rejuvenated Lee from the start. He homered twice in his debut against the Cubs before Marmol’s errant pitch sidelined over the next month.
Karma appropriately took Lee’s side when he came off the DL on September 3 to again face his former mates at Wrigley Field.
He capped a 3-for-5 day at the plate with a game-winning, two-out grand slam in the top of the ninth–fittingly coming against Marmol.
Lee piled up three more hits the following day. He was hitting .412 with Pittsburgh, including a nine-game hitting streak.
In his following 23 contests since returning from the DL, Lee was hitting at a .349 clip with 5 HR and 15 RBI. All totaled, Lee played 28 games with Pittsburgh hitting .337 with 7 HR and 18 RBI–Hardly numbers that would signal the end of a career.
Yet, midway through the offseason the former Cub remains unsigned.
Two things to watch for as the Cubs’ season draws to a close over the final six games.
1.) The Cubs and Pirates are tied for fourth place in the NL Central.
2.) Chicago has a chance to ruin the Cardinals’ bid for the NL Wild Card.
The Cubs have managed a (27-23) record over its last 50 games to climb into a tie with Pittsburgh for fourth place in the division at (69-87).
The Peg Legs, meanwhile, have gone in the opposite direction. They’ve lost 40 of its last 56 games since leading the division at (53-47) 100-games into the season.
The Cubs’ first winning month of the season, (16-13) in August, puts them in position to catch Pittsburgh for fourth place in the NL Central.
Of course that’s not going to save Mike Quade’s job or make the season any less miserable, but it would give Chicago a shred of respectability placing ahead of the always dreadful Pirates and the major’s worst club, Houston.
Reality finally settled in on Pittsburgh in mid July after reaching a season-high seven games above .500 to go along with the division lead as of July 19. But the Pirates have simply collapsed since posting a mark of (11-30).
They’re now 12-games sub .500, 18-games back of Milwaukee, and just three wins better than Chicago. A harsh reality, indeed.
If only Mike Quade could get his team to play when the season still mattered.
Turn the pressure off, as it was last August when Quade took over, and the Cubs perform up to standard, as evident during this five-game winning streak with the Cubs floating in obscurity 18-games below .500 and 15-games back in the division.
Add expectations, however, and the Cubs get cooked for four months before playing like the the team that was suppose to avoid such dire straights this year.
So if Quade rallies the Cubs on another late season charge, the Cubs are playing .500 ball over the last 20-games since the All Star break, is that grounds to bring the skipper back for another season?
Or has the precedent been set–Quade Power is limited to no-pressure situations, which is good for drumming up offseason excitement, but doesn’t hold water come April.
That’s the question Cubs management must figure out before next year…or risk losing another season to post season obscurity.
The Pirates’ seven-game losing streak is as a prime example of the old adage ‘good teams know how to win’.
Pittsburgh has shown they’re a far better team than anyone expected them to be. However, they’ve also shown their youth and inexperience by buckling under the pressure of a divisional race.
Becoming buyers at the Trade Deadline was exciting, but also added additional pressure to the expectations of winning…the stakes being raised with each game seemingly more important than the last.
Good teams know how to channel the excitement into wins. Inexperienced contenders like Pittsburgh often crumble, as has been the case with the Pirates falling seven-games behind division leading Milwaukee since Sunday.
No doubt the Peg Legs feel the screws tightening. This is, after all, unfamiliar territory for a team that’s spent nearly two decades sweeping up the basement of the NL Central.
But learning how to win over the course of a 162 game marathon doesn’t happen over night, let alone, over four months of .500 baseball.
A huge part of becoming a division winner is beating lesser teams like the Cubs, especially at home. But a four-game sweep at the hands of lowly Chicago has virtually eliminated the Pirates’ post season bid.
The Pirates have, at last, enough collective talent to win its division…learning how to win it is the next step to becoming a good team.