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This Is Still A Pennant Race?, and Open Thread: Cubs vs. Reds, Thursday 8/16, 1:20 CT

I've been racking my brains, reduced to a soggy mess by last night's rains, to try to make some sense out of what's happened at Wrigley Field the last two nights.

And I can't. The Cubs, allegedly still in contention a game over .500, lost to the Reds 11-9 in a game that we were joking was still going to be going on when they opened the gates at 11:20 for this afternoon's contest.

"Allegedly" in contention? Even Lou Piniella tried to make a joke about this:

"It seems like we're in a pennant race," Piniella said. "I'm not too damn sure."
So the Cubs are now reduced to attempting to salvage one game of this series from a not-very-good Reds team; they will continue to try to contend -- and being 1.5 games out of first place in mid-August SHOULD be contention -- without, apparently, ANY consistent starting pitchers, ANY reliable late-inning relief, or anyone who can come off the bench and get a hit in a critical situation.

I'm being too harsh, I suppose, but that's the way it feels after moderate-to-steady rain delayed the start of last night's game for 90 minutes, and then both teams played as if they had all the time in the world, which caused a steady exodus of the crowd of 40,162 as the night went on; by game's end at 11:54, less than 1/3 of the full house was left. The teams combined for 23 hits and 11 walks; maybe the pitchers were having trouble gripping the ball. After the rain stopped I found my hands staying clammy and damp for several innings, despite continuing to wipe them down with a towel.

Ted Lilly was inconsistent last night, and got yanked after allowing six runs in five innings, despite having thrown only 85 pitches. Then Lou failed to leave Mike Fontenot, who batted for Lilly, in the game, when he could have done so. Thus when Lou had to pull Michael Wuertz after he got hit hard, THEN he did the double-switch, putting Ronny Cedeno at 2B -- wasting a player who might have helped later on.

And why on Earth was Carmen Pignatiello not in the game in the sixth inning to face Adam Dunn, who homered? Granted, facing Dunn in your major league debut in a key game isn't necessarily the way most managers would like to have a young pitcher break in -- but if that's the case, why is Pignatiello on the team? If he's good enough to be here, he should be good enough to be in the game. As it was he was up at least four times and probably threw a hundred warm-up tosses in the damp night air.

Bob Howry was the culprit later, allowing the game-winning two-run HR to Josh Hamilton (and please, no "Why didn't the Cubs just keep him in the Rule 5 draft?" comments. There was never any intention of doing so -- the Cubs selected him strictly as a favor to the Reds. I don't think ANYONE knew he'd be this good at the major league level.), and so despite scoring nine runs, and getting Jason Kendall's first HR as a Cub, and one solid inning of relief out of Kerry Wood -- it's just another loss. If you score fifteen runs off a bad team in your home park in two games, you should win both of them.

Instead the Cubs are looking warily behind them at the Cardinals, now only two games behind. This isn't to say that the Cardinals are that good, either, although they've put up twenty runs in two games against a Brewer team that was nearly unbeatable in its home park -- up to now. The Cardinals, I think, only look good in comparison to the Brewers and Cubs, who are both 4-10 in August, compared to St. Louis' 7-7 -- hardly a sign of a team that's hot.

So who do we root for today? The Cardinals, presuming that the Cubs would win, moving the Cubs to within 1/2 game of first place? Or the Brewers, who with a Cubs win could put St. Louis three games behind the Cubs? I'm torn.

Whatever the result at Miller Park this afternoon, today's game at Wrigley Field is absolutely, positively, without any debate, a MUST WIN.

Trivia note from last night: two players, the Reds' Ryan Jorgensen, and the Cubs' Jake Fox, got their first major league hits in the same inning, Jorgensen with a HR and Fox with a double.

One last note: first-round draft pick Josh Vitters signed with the Cubs just before last night's 11 pm CT deadline, getting a $3.2 million signing bonus. That article says the Cubs are going to try to get some playing time for Vitters in the Arizona League and perhaps even at Boise before the minor league season ends in a couple of weeks.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Jason Marquis
J. Marquis
vs. Bobby Livingston
B. Livingston
9-7 W-L 3-2
4.18 ERA 4.24
78 SO 20
55 BB 7
17 HR 7
vs. Cin -- vs. Cubs
Thirty years ago today, the Cubs played a long extra-inning game against the Pirates, a fifteen-inning mess that lasted nearly five hours; they eventually won 6-5 on an error. Sometime during the extra innings, WGN's news department interrupted the telecast with the bulletin that Elvis Presley had died. After they returned to the ballpark, Jack Brickhouse, in his most fulsome voice, said, "What a sad bulletin!"

Anyway, on to this afternoon's contest, which will be occurring nearly simultaneously with the Cardinals/Brewers game in Milwaukee. Jason Marquis is the last Cubs pitcher to win a game, throwing quite well last Friday in Colorado. He faced the Reds on April 5 in Cincinnati and threw well, giving them only one run in six innings; he wound up with a no-decision when -- sound familiar? -- the bullpen blew the 2-1 lead Marquis had handed them. Unlike most Cubs pitchers, Marquis has handled Adam Dunn pretty well -- 5-for-20. Lifetime he is 4-3, 4.45 in 11 starts vs. the Reds.

I tried reverse psychology last night with Reds starter Phil Dumatrait. I suppose it worked, because Dumatrait couldn't throw straight, walking four batters and giving up five earned runs, even though the Reds wound up winning. So I'll just say that Livingston, who has never faced the Cubs, has pitched extremely well in his eight starts so far this year, and in his spare time he helps clean up oil spills in Alaska, has personally saved at least 12 animal species from being put on the endangered list, and just the other day rehabbed a ten-story historic building that was about to fall to a wrecker's ball.

And he's nice to his mother.

Today's game is once again on WGN, so you can watch (yes, you, peek out from behind those hands covering your eyes); if you don't have WGN, check out today's Mediacenter link. Gameday (2007 version) Gameday (2006 version) Gameday for the Brewers/Cardinals game

Discuss amongst yourselves.