Aramis Ramirez of the Chicago Cubs receives congratulations after hitting a home run during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cubs defeated the Reds 12-8. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Where has this been all year?
I know, I know, it's September. But the Cubs are unleashing offense on unsuspecting teams and winning with double-digit run-scoring. This was unheard-of just a couple of months ago. The Cubs have now scored 22 runs in their last two games, going into double digits in both. They haven't done that in more than two years; the last time a Cubs team scored 10 runs or more in consecutive games was July 29 and July 30, 2009, when they put up back-to-back 12-spots on the Astros at Wrigley Field. (Hmmm. Astros coming in this weekend. Maybe this streak can keep going.)
Not only that, the Cubs have scored 18 runs in their last 10 innings of play after scoring six in the ninth inning on Sunday night against the Mets in New York. Monday night wound up 12-8 in favor of the Cubs over the Reds, and thank heavens for James Russell -- because if Ramon Ortiz had been left in much longer, Carlos Marmol might have had to come into the game.
Starlin Castro -- who homered, hit two doubles and scored four runs -- and Aramis Ramirez (25th homer, matching Billy Williams as the only Cubs to have six seasons of 30+ doubles and 25+ HR) led the 16-hit barrage, which also included a home run by Jeff Baker and a double by Geovany Soto. Geo was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple. Usually, you'd be upset watching that, but even though the score was only 5-3 Cubs at the time, you had the sense they'd be scoring more.
Which they did, extending the lead to 10-3 before Rodrigo Lopez also decided he'd give up a bunch of home runs. Four of them, in fact, including one that was said to be the second-longest ever at GABP, hit by Juan Francisco (the only longer one was hit by Adam Dunn in 2004). Brandon Phillips hit two off Lopez and Reds rookie Devin Mesoraco -- who they hope will take over their starting catching job next year -- hit his first MLB home run.
Lopez has now allowed 18 home runs in 85.2 innings and has posted a 1.55 WHIP and 5.04 ERA. Extrapolate that HR pace to 200 innings and it would result in 42 dingers allowed. Seriously -- Lopez is bad. He's a fifth starter on a bad team, like he was for last year's Diamondbacks (or this year's Cubs). If the Cubs hope to even improve in 2012 (and I'm not even necessarily talking about contending), they have to find a better fifth starter. (Maybe Jason Marquis is available to return. He'll be a free agent. He'd be better.)
The Cubs' run barrage of the last couple of days has increased their season total to 608, which ranks eighth in the National League. That's decent; if the team had a league-average pitching staff (league average is 610 runs allowed) they'd likely be a .500 ballclub. However, the 705 runs allowed is just about league-worst; only the Astros (719) have given up more. In this way, this team is reminscent of the 1975 Cubs, who were third in the NL in offense with 712 runs (and set the team record for walks in a season, 650), but finished 75-87 because they gave up 88 more runs than anyone else (827). Fix the pitching problem with this team and you may very soon see a contender.
The 2011 Cubs, who hit bottom on July 30 at 42-65, 23 games under .500, have gone 23-17 since then. If they go 10-5 in their remaining games -- not impossible -- they'd match the 1975 club (and coincidentally, last year's, too). I wouldn't worry too much about a strong finish saving Mike Quade's job; the new general manager will likely have his own ideas about who should manage this team going forward.
The Cubs will go for four in a row -- a place they've visited just once before this season, when they won seven straight -- tonight at GABP. Maybe they'll hit more home runs. It's fun to watch.