Before you send the men in the white coats to take me away, remember this:
My son Mark plays for a Park District team called the Cardinals, and this evening, with a game that providentially began right after the Cub/Cardinal game ended, they defeated the Dodgers 10-5 (in a game which included a 30-minute rain delay as a brief shower scraped through the Chicago area) and thus will be in their league championship game tomorrow at 5:30, playing the Giants. If they win that, they advance to the Welles Park World Series.
So, I was very happy that those Cardinals won, and I was much more happy that the Chicago Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-5 today, evening their series (and the season series), and moved back over the .500 mark.
Derrek Lee -- man, what more can you say about the season he is having? He now leads all three Triple Crown categories by himself (.370, 32 HR, 81 RBI), is on pace for a 53 HR, 135 RBI season (and at this point, that sort of "pace" is more realistic than the silly things we see the MSM write about in April), and has matched his career high in home runs, set last year, with sixty-five games remaining.
Remarkable, and yes, that is the true definition of "Most Valuable Player." The Cubs would probably be in Des Moines right now without Lee.
Best of all about today's game, the Cubs blew a 3-0 lead and still hung on to win. How did they do this?
With exactly the thing we have spent the last 24 hours ripping them for, relief pitching. Today, the bullpen did the job it was asked to do, and I give particular credit to Roberto Novoa, who threw a key 1.1 scoreless innings just when the ballclub needed it most.
This is the problem; not that the Cubs don't have talented pitchers, because they do. They are just maddeningly inconsistent. Novoa was awful in Cincinnati -- and maybe that balk unsettled him -- but very good today. And it's that inconsistency that's killing us. Does anyone here really think that sending him back to Iowa and replacing him with Jermaine Van Buren, a talented but even more inexperienced pitcher, would solve the bullpen problem?
It's been said here and elsewhere, by me, by you, and even by Jim Hendry -- bullpen help just isn't that easy to find. It's easy for us to sit here and say, "GO GET DANYS BAEZ", and another thing for Hendry to sit down and try to pry him from the clenched fingers of Chuck LaMar.
There may be help on the way in the form of Scott Williamson, who has pennant-race experience and threw very well in the 2003 postseason for the Red Sox. But he may still be a couple of weeks away. I'd also, as I wrote the other day, take a flyer on Shingo Takatsu, who was DFA'd by the White Sox recently.
About the rest of today's game, I think the Cubs have proven that they can play right there with the Cardinals. They even managed to score a couple of runs to start the game with a 2-0 lead, without hitting a home run. Not that I'm criticizing the three homers today, and only two of them (by Aramis Ramirez and Jeromy Burnitz) were solo shots. Lee's homer came after a Todd Walker single, and put the Cubs ahead to stay after they had blown the 3-0 lead.
Once again, Jerome Williams wasn't dominant, but has now thrown six or more innings in all five starts he's made for the Cubs. As a fifth starter, that's significant -- especially with the bullpen being as up-and-down as it has been. Ryan Dempster made us nervous in the ninth by allowing a single and a walk, but got out of the inning and the game with a line-drive double play right to Neifi.
More good news: if Nomar Garciaparra has another problem-free game tomorrow in Mesa, he could be playing in Peoria as soon as Tuesday, and I'd think that if all goes well, the August 1 target date that many of us were looking at as early as right after his injury, may come to pass. That, of course, would be the same date he joined the Cubs last year, and the psychological boost of such a return cannot be underestimated.
There are a couple of other things worth mentioning in the above-linked article. Kerry Wood will indeed miss his start Monday, and:
Interesting. The DL hadn't been mentioned till now, so I suspect he may be closer to a DL stint than we might have guessed earlier. It's still up in the air whether Glendon Rusch or Sergio Mitre, both of whom threw last night, or someone else, will start in Wood's place.
I doubt Guzman will ever throw a major league pitch for the Cubs. They should have traded him a year ago, when other teams still coveted him. This is yet another cautionary tale to those who tend to overrate every prospect in our system. We wish they'd all make it, but reality... well, sometimes, reality does bite.
Not today, though, and with Mark Prior throwing against Jeff Suppan tomorrow night (and I'm sure the players are thankful that the game was switched to a 7:05 start, since it's forecast to be 103 in St. Louis tomorrow afternoon), the Cubs have a very good chance of winning the series, and coming home on a high note.
Keep the faith, there are still eight days till the trading deadline, and sixty-five games remaining.