On the day when Andre Dawson's Hall of Fame induction speech included this loving tribute to Cubs fans:
"And from my heart, thank you Cubs fans. You were a true blessing in my life. I didn't know what it was like to be loved by a city until I got to Chicago. ... You were the wind beneath the Hawk's wings."
... the 2010 version of the Cubs decided to give their fans another summation of their season. And this time, it may result in the farewell to Chicago for some players who have been here for a while. The Cubs lost 4-3 in 11 innings to the Cardinals last night on a moonlit, pleasant night with the tropical humidity of Friday and Saturday banished to the East Coast, in front of the largest paid crowd of the year, 41,406; it seemed nearly half Cardinals fans.
And it included, as has been the case so often this year:
- Solid starting pitching. Ryan Dempster threw the team's 63rd quality start -- first in the major leagues -- and registered his 1500th career strikeout.
- Actually getting hits and runs off the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter. It was only the eight time in 19 career starts Carpenter has made vs. the Cubs in which they managed to score more than two earned runs off him.
- Good relief pitching from Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.
- Some good defense from Marlon Byrd, who threw Skip Schumaker out at the plate in the sixth inning, keeping the game tied.
Looks good so far, right? But it also included the bad things we've seen far too often in 2010:
- Continued failure to score runners in scoring position. The Cubs left RISP in the sixth, ninth, tenth and eleventh innings and had the winning run on third base with two out in the last of the ninth and could not score.
- Bad relief pitching from the back end of the bullpen. With Andrew Cashner unavailable last night due to illness (he wasn't even at the ballpark last night), Brian Schlitter had to be sent into the tie game. He got out of one inning with a slick double play, but wasn't as good the next inning, allowing the game-winning home run to Felipe Lopez.
When the mostly-rookie bullpen was put together in spring training, many said this would be the team's downfall. I disagreed. Obviously, I was wrong. Of all the young relievers, only Cashner has been consistently good (with the occasional good outing from James Russell), and he wasn't even on the team until the end of May.
It was the Cubs' 22nd loss in 35 one-run games so far this season. If you take that 13-22 record and reverse the result in even five of those games, make the one-run record 18-17, which wouldn't be unreasonable for even a contending team (the 2010 Braves, for example, are 15-14 in one-run affairs), and the Cubs' record would be 50-49 and they'd be only five games behind the Cardinals instead of 10, and we'd be talking happily about a pennant race.
The one-run losses, two of which have occurred in extra innings in the last four games, are that summation of the season, and the failure to hit with RISP and the failure to have an effective bullpen are the primary reasons the Cubs had a 6-4 homestand instead of 9-1.
So now what happens? I'd imagine Jim Hendry is trying to sell other teams on the merits of Ted Lilly, Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady, Kosuke Fukudome, Mike Fontenot and maybe Carlos Silva.
But seriously, how many of those players are really dealable? Lee's having a tough year, though he's hit better lately. Nady's production has been down and he has started only three games this month (and none since the All-Star break). Fukudome is hitting .182/.341/.364 in July. Fontenot has to keep jumping up and down in the dugout to even remind Lou he's still on the team (he's started only two games this month and hasn't had a hit since July 5). Silva, who will start tonight in Houston, hasn't gotten out of the second inning in either of his last two starts.
This article says scouts were "buzzing" after Tom Gorzelanny's solid outing Saturday, but why would the Cubs trade a good, relatively inexpensive, relatively young (just turned 28) lefthander who could be a key part of the 2011 rotation?
So that leaves Lilly, who is still scheduled to start tomorrow in Houston (and I believe he will make that start). Bruce Miles reported on an interesting meeting with Ted yesterday:
GM Jim Hendry isn’t here tonight, but assistant GM Randy Bush spent some time this afternoon in the clubhouse with lefty Ted Lilly. Perhaps Bush was apprising Lilly on the ongoing trade talks concerning the lefty. I’d said it’s more a question of "when" rather than "if" Lilly is traded.
Or the meeting could mean something else, or nothing. We'll see. Yesterday's trade of Dan Haren to the Angels was unexpected -- at least in his destination, since he had been rumored to just about every contender except the Angels -- so the results of this final week before the non-waiver deadline on Saturday may lead the Cubs to unexpected places as well.
In the meantime, it would be nice to beat the Astros tonight... just because.