In Carlos Zambrano's first full year in the starting rotation, 2003, Mike & I used to sit in the bleachers and note whether he'd get a lot of ground balls in the first inning. If he did, we'd say, "He's on today", and invariably, he was.
Z -- and his managers -- think he's a strikeout pitcher. But in reality, his best games are when he has his heavy sinker working and the other team pounds balls into the ground. Not only that, but that helps reduce his pitch count. That's what happened last night; after eight innings, he had thrown 104 pitches. We can all remember games when Z has thrown 100 pitches after five innings. Last night Z had only three strikeouts, but he didn't need to K people; he gave up only three singles and recorded twelve outs on ground balls, including a nice comebacker in which he himself started the Cubs' only DP of the game.
So in my opinion, there were about a zillion reasons to at least let Z start the ninth inning last night -- in addition to the not-ridiculous pitch count, Z was scheduled to be the first batter of the 10th inning had it gotten to extras. At that point you either bat for him, or let him bat for himself and then remove him. Or if he gets into trouble in the 9th, then have relievers ready to go.
Yes, Angel Guzman has been lights-out in his last few outings and, of course, Lou Piniella trusts him, just as he trusted Carlos Marmol in the first game of the 2007 NLDS against the Diamondbacks.
But the result was the same as that 2007 playoff game -- a loss, this time 2-1 to the Astros. In this case you also have to give the other guy some credit; Wandy Rodriguez kept the Cubs off-balance all night with his junkballs and Chris Sampson, who has become one of the better relievers in the National League, shut the offense down, allowing only two singles. All told the Cubs had only six singles and Geovany Soto's third home run of the season. That was also Geo's second home run in his last five games and in his last 16 games since May 12, he is hitting .308/.422/.500 with all three of his season HR, 10 walks, and 11 RBI. That's about 1/3 of the season to date; if Geo can keep this up for the rest of the season, he'll be just fine.
A win this afternoon will give the Cubs a winning road trip; with the Brewers losing again to the Rockies last night the Cubs lost no ground to them in the NL Central, remaining 2.5 games behind (and only one in the loss column). All the teams in the NL Central will be playing day games today (with the Reds and Nationals playing at a strange time, 4:35 EDT), before everyone in the division heads into the wilds of interleague play tomorrow -- save the Astros, who will take part in the necessary one NL game against the Diamondbacks this weekend.
The pregame thread for today's 1:05 pm CDT game will post at 11:30 am CDT.