This message is for anyone who is involved. Whatever you've done with the Chicago Cubs from the first half -- and replaced them with this group -- leave the original bunch wherever they are, because we like these players better.
Here's what Aramis Ramirez has done since returning from the disabled list: .358/.388/.765 (1.143 OPS) in 72 plate appearances, with six doubles, a triple, six home runs, 16 runs scored and 15 RBI in 17 games. His eighth-inning home run off Phillies reliever Ryan Madson was the game-winner; the Cubs won their second straight over Philadelphia 4-3, in the fastest game of the year, two hours and 12 minutes on a hot, breezy day with the game time temperature reported at 90. In so doing they raised their record in one-run games to 12-20 -- still pretty bad -- and won their first one-run game since the 13-inning, 3-2 win over the Mariners on June 24, more than three weeks ago.
We have been told by Lou Piniella over and over that "if only the hitters would get going, good things would happen." Maybe this is it. Ramirez has been the one constant in Cubs batting orders for the last several years, even more so than Derrek Lee; Alfonso Soriano has carried the team at times, but it's been the consistent hitting of Ramirez that has been winning games for the Cubs since he was acquired in 2003.
He's obviously healthy now and in a hitting zone -- that's an amazing torrid stretch that, if it continues, could carry this team for a while. They are still quite far behind the Reds -- but who knows what will happen over the next week? If any miracle is to begin, right now, with the team at home and playing well against a weakened Phillies club, is the time to do it.
The other star of today's game was Ted Lilly, who was again being scouted by multiple teams. He retired the first ten batters he faced before Shane Victorino smashed a ball deep into the left-center field bleachers. Then Ted, who still does not have a hit this season (0-for-26), worked an 0-2 count into a bases-loaded walk (only the sixth walk of his 274-plate appearance career) and flung the bat away like he does this sort of thing all the time. The RBI base on balls tied the game at one.
Ted struck out ten, but after a pair of K's in the sixth, he walked Jayson Werth on four pitches. He must have been angry at himself for doing that, because Ryan Howard then hit a ball off the top of the Batter's Eye Lounge in center field for a 3-1 Philly lead. Fortunately, the Cubs had a nearly matching inning of their own -- a two-out double by A-Ram followed by a game-tying homer from Marlon Byrd.
So kudos to Ted -- and what do you do now? He's not going to be traded any time soon; expect him to make his next start on Wednesday against the Astros. The Cubs are obviously going to move parts that they can (Mike Fontenot? Xavier Nady? Kosuke Fukudome? Those would seem the most likely to me), while still holding out hope of a miracle.
Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol (17th save) also deserve credit today for fine relief appearances; Marmol struck out the side in the ninth, giving the staff 14 strikeouts and Marmol a close third place on the staff with 81 K's in 42.2 innings (right behind Randy Wells with 83). The 81 K's rank him 26th in the National League; the next-ranked pitcher who has thrown exclusively in relief in the NL is Tyler Clippard of the Nationals, who ranks 61st and has 58 K's -- in nine more innings than Marmol.
There's a long way to go before we can seriously talk about "contention". But if the Cubs keep up the way they've played the last two days... who knows?