a) A glass half empty
b) A glass half full
c) When is it going to spill?
a) A glass half empty b) A glass half full c) When is it going to spill?
That's an old Cub fan joke, and maybe it isn't that funny, especially after another bad-looking loss, 8-3 to the Giants, but if you're getting that "sky is falling" feeling this morning, think about this: You could be a Brewers fan, having just watched your team blow a five-run ninth inning lead to the Diamondbacks and lose 6-5 when three Milwaukee relievers faced seven Arizona hitters in the 9th and got none of them out.
Or, you could be a Cardinals fan, having just watched your team get blown out 11-1 by a mediocre Mets team (remember? the team the Cubs beat 7-1 and 8-1 in Chicago in April?) and having Tony LaRussa treat one of his kid starters, Mitchell Boggs, like he did Jason Marquis two years ago and leave him on the mound for six innings to take an 10-hit, 6-walk, 11-run pounding.
Feel better now? Since Carlos Zambrano walked off the mound in Tampa on June 18, making all of us cringe as he called the coaching and training staff out to look at his right shoulder, the Cubs are 6-8. Yet, they have lost exactly one game of their division lead since that date, and tonight Z takes the mound in St. Louis in a matchup of the teams with the two best records in the National League, in a series the Cubs really have to win, if for no other reason than to actually prove to themselves that they can win a series on the road -- they haven't since the series I attended in Toronto three weekends ago.
They should have won the series in San Francisco instead of splitting it -- especially after scoring three runs off Tim Lincecum, a run total he's allowed only six times in his 18 starts this year. Sean Gallagher had one bad inning, the second, in which he allowed all four of his runs, and the last one scored when Geovany Soto dropped a Ray Durham popup that allowed the fourth (unearned) run to score. In fairness, the wind was howling pretty good yesterday and that took the ball from foul to fair territory, away from Geovany. Still, if he catches it, Mark DeRosa's two-run double in the sixth would have tied the game instead of just making it 4-3 and then who knows?
What I do know is that Jose Ascanio is likely headed back to Iowa today when Z is activated (and Gallagher's headed to the bullpen). Despite having a good arm, Ascanio has had a penchant for helping turn close games into blowouts. He did it last Sunday at the Cell when he allowed a two-run HR by Jim Thome that turned a 3-1 deficit into a virtually insurmountable 5-1 lead, and again yesterday when he misplayed Omar Vizquel's bunt. Vizquel is an excellent bunter, but the one in the 7th yesterday might have been turned into a double play with a better-fielding pitcher. At the very least it should have resulted in an out; Lou had very little patience with his bullpen yesterday, pulling Ascanio right after that and then yanking his replacement, Carlos Marmol, after Marmol threw exactly three pitches to Rich Aurilia, the third of which was deposited in the LF bleachers to make the score 7-3, effectively ending the game.
You want to worry about Marmol? Go ahead, because so am I (and so is Lou). Including his meltdown in Tampa on June 19, Marmol in his last seven appearances has pitched five innings, allowed five hits, seven walks and three HR for ten earned runs and an 18.00 ERA. I don't know what's wrong with him; if he's hurt he needs to get to the DL, and if he's not, something has to be turned around quickly because the Cubs can't win games without him.
The shadows at Phone Holding Company Park weren't a factor till about the seventh inning; at game time the entire field was still in bright sunshine, but that didn't help the Cubs hit Tim Lincecum that well. He still struck out eight in his six innings.
So while you might think things are collapsing, take heart. Z returns tonight. Alfonso Soriano's going to start hitting off a tee tonight, in anticipation of a rehab assignment and possibly a return by next weekend. The Cubs still have the third-best record in baseball, behind the Rays and Angels, and maintain a 2.5 game division lead.