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Ready, And Not Ready

Dave noticed it when the national anthem was sung, today by Wayne Messmer.

The Astros were lined up -- the entire team, not a few stragglers by the bullpen, and some in the outfield, but the ENTIRE team -- outside their dugout. And Dave said to me, "That shows you how Cecil Cooper has laid down some discipline in his first few days as manager."

Cooper's got a pretty good shot at getting the fulltime managing gig in Houston for 2008 -- he's been a longtime coach, and as we all know, Bud Selig (who's known Cooper forever, since his days as a Brewer player) likes to promote minority hiring in those spots.

In his first four games as manager, Cooper's got the Astros playing more inspired -- this isn't unusual; the Cubs even had a managerial bounce when Don Baylor was fired in favor of Bruce Kimm in 2002 (won 9 of their first 13 under Kimm). Today, the Astros played inspired, and the Cubs played tired, and the result was an excruciatingly long, three-hour and six-minute, 6-1 Cub loss to the Astros, in front of another huge throng, 41,297, which raised the average for the 68 home dates to 40,107, and included several thousand yellow-clad Iowa Hawkeyes fans, in town for tomorrow's game vs. Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. I even spotted a few of them wearing yellow T-shirts that read on the front: "Two Wins, One Great Weekend", and on the back: "Cubs Today, Hawkeyes Tomorrow".

Too bad the Cubs didn't oblige, and as ready as the Astros looked, it was as tired and sloppy as the Cubs looked. The emotional lift they could have received from last night's big win just wasn't there -- from the get-go, they looked absolutely flat.

Even at that, the game could have stayed close if it hadn't been for Aramis Ramirez' error on a routine ground ball by Ty Wigginton leading off the fourth inning. That prolonged the inning long enough for Hunter Pence to hit a three-run homer with two out, making all the runs in that inning unearned off Sean Marshall. If not for that, Marshall still might have come out of the game early (he, like Ted Lilly last night, had absolutely no command, walking three in the first inning), but the score would have been 1-0 instead of 4-0, and maybe some of the nine runners the Cubs left on base might have scored. Michael Wuertz made it worse (no, I'm not going to give in to the Wuertz/worse pun) by allowing Pence's second HR of the game in the sixth, giving Pence five RBI (a career high) and putting the game out of reach. Cubs pitchers walked seven today, never a good sign.

Wandy Rodriguez, who came into this game with a road ERA orbiting Jupiter, threw six scoreless, four-hit innings. In only ONE other start on the road this season (a 4-1 Astros win on June 5 in Colorado) did Wandy allow fewer than TWO earned runs. So go figure. The Cubs managed to push across a consolation run in the eighth on three straight singles, one by Ramirez (who had three hits today), one by Craig Monroe, and a pinch-hit RBI single from Daryle Ward.

And that was that. Kerry Wood threw two solid innings in relief and Scott Eyre struck out Mark Loretta and Wigginton in throwing a 1-2-3 ninth, lowering his season ERA to 5.02 (yes, I know that doesn't sound like much, but it was over twelve at one point, and over 7 as recently as June 30). In 17 appearances since that June 30 game, Eyre has thrown 14 innings and allowed two earned runs, for a 1.29 ERA with no HR.

And so let's talk a bit about today's big news, the reacquisition of Steve Trachsel from the Orioles in exchange for Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry.

Trachsel will be 37 years old in October. He is perhaps best remembered as a Cub for being the winning pitcher in the wild-card tiebreaker game on September 28, 1998. He also was the pitcher who allowed Mark McGwire's then-HR record-breaking 62nd HR in St. Louis on September 8, 1998, and for being on the mound during the Chicago Air and Water Show on August 22, 1997, and ducking when one of the Thunderbirds made a particularly low pass over Wrigley Field.

He's further known for taking forever to pitch -- a "Human Rain Delay" of pitchers (Mike Hargrove got that reputation as a player for being one of the first to step in and out of the batter's box multiple times during an at-bat). He's been a bit better about that this year with Baltimore -- see, for example, this start he made against Toronto two weeks ago -- and clearly, the Cubs have been impressed with his performance during the past month. In six August starts Trachsel was 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA and threw at least six innings in five of the six starts.

What do I think? Scott Moore clearly had no place on this club with Lee and Ramirez entrenched at 1B and 3B, so Jim Hendry did him a favor by getting him to a team where he might get a shot (yes, I know the Orioles have Melvin Mora at 3B, but Mora could play other positions, too). Rocky Cherry has a good arm, but I have heard that he isn't good in pressure situations, and with the emergence of Carlos Marmol and the good outings from Kerry Wood, Cherry's sort of superfluous. It does mean I'll never get to write Felix Pie's name after Cherry's on a scorecard, but perhaps the Orioles and Cubs might meet in an interleague game and Cherry could FACE Pie.

This is a "win now" deal, as Trachsel is 37 and a free agent. Is he a savior? No, but he gives you another starting pitcher option; could be a long man in the bullpen, and he did pitch in the postseason for the Mets last year (admittedly, not very well, as he lasted less than two innings in game three of the NLCS, allowing five runs. Incidentally, Trachsel won 60 games as a Cub pitcher from 1993-1999. That's tied for 39th on the all-time club list.

Now, the most important thing is to go out tomorrow and even this series, and I worry because the Cubs will be facing yet ANOTHER young left-hander they haven't seen before -- Troy Patton -- and I worry, too, that something is really wrong with Derrek Lee. He was 0-for-4 today and looked bad doing it, and I don't think the scare from yesterday, when he ran into the plexiglass screen in front of the dugout boxes, has anything to do with it. He probably needs a day off to clear his head, but with a lefty going tomorrow, won't get one. Whatever's wrong with him, he'd better figure it out quickly. The Cubs need his bat to be ON.

Go Reds! Go Pirates! Gameday for the Pirates/Brewers game (7:05 CT start) Gameday for the Reds/Cardinals game (7:10 CT start)