Summer arrived at Wrigley Field today, a couple of months late. Didn't anyone tell the weather folks that this is the weather we should have had in July?
Rich Harden apparently wanted to make summer last forever, as he threw an alarming 103 pitches in four innings before Lou had seen enough and sent Aaron Miles up to bat for him in the last of the fourth. Miles actually saw four pitches before grounding to second. (Harden probably could have done that, and then been lifted anyway.) It got so bad with Harden's lack of control that Lou actually had David Patton warming up in the first inning, despite the fact that Harden hadn't allowed a hit. Instead, Harden had walked the bases loaded and thrown 39 pitches to get the first three outs.
Thankfully, the Cubs had enough offense off Justin Lehr, who had shut them out in Cincinnati in August. Aramis Ramirez drove in three runs -- he now has 54 RBI, and with two more will move into second place on the 2009 Cub team list behind Derrek Lee. Think about that. 56 RBI is 2nd on the team, and Ramirez has about half the at-bats of the people he's passing. That's how difficult offense has been to come by at times for this team. Geovany Soto homered -- his first since August 10 -- and the Cubs hung on for a 6-4 win. Their playoff hopes with 23 games remaining and an 8.5 game deficit may be very slim (0.7% by Baseball Prospectus' estimate), but all you can do is go out there every day and win your game and see what happens.
Lou apparently decided to use the middle innings, with the Cubs leading 4-1 after Soto's homer, to audition pitchers for next year's bullpen. Perhaps we can cross Jeff Stevens off the list. Stevens gave up two singles and a three-run homer to Jonny Gomes, tying the game. For that performance, Stevens got his first major league win, because he was the pitcher of record when Kosuke Fukudome walked for the second time in the game, went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Ramirez's single. This is proof positive that wins for relief pitchers are virtually meaningless. The official scorer does have the discretion to award the victory to someone other than the pitcher of record if he pitches "briefly and ineffectively", as the official rules state. Today was a perfect example of a game where that could have been the case. Aaron Heilman -- who's actually thrown better lately -- came in after Stevens and threw two shutdown innings, striking out the side in the seventh and throwing 22 strikes in his 34 pitches. Heilman deserved the win.
Also auditioning for next year was Esmailin Caridad, who has a good arm and also threw a good scoreless inning. He needs to develop a breaking pitch; perhaps the Cubs will send him to winter ball so he can work on one. Caridad, who will be 26 next month, could be an important part of the 2010 bullpen.
Carlos Marmol will definitely be the anchor of that pen -- it appears he has finally settled down now that he's been officially named closer. Despite a walk and single (which wouldn't have been a single if Andres Blanco had been inserted for defense in the 9th, as Koyie Hill was), Marmol stayed within himself and finished off the Reds for his 12th save.
As I said -- the chances are slim. But the Cubs are setting themselves up to have one of the better Septembers in recent memory; they're 7-3 and riding a four-game winning streak. Let's keep riding it. Keep the faith and go Cubs.