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Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: 2003, part 20

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Following a strong homestand, the Cubs head back on the road.

Photo by Matthew Stockmanl/Getty Images

When last we looked back at the 2003 Cubs, they’d taken four of six from two pretty decent teams at home. The calendar had turned from July to August. There was a day off for the first time in more than two weeks. Now, the Cubs would head to the west coast for six games with the Padres and Dodgers. The team would get a big lift for the trip in the form of their most effective starting pitcher in Mark Prior.

Despite things looking up, the Cubs continued to sit in third place in their division. They were still 312 games out of first. They were also likely fighting for just one playoff spot with the two teams ahead of them. In 2003, there was still only one wild card playoff spot. The National League East featured three teams in the Phillies, Marlins and Braves all sitting more than 10 games over .500.

The bottom line? The Cubs still faced a very tall task. The team would have to have a good final stretch heading to the end of the year or come up short for a playoff spot. Let’s get to the action and see if they were able to sustain the momentum from a strong homestand.

Game 111, August 5: Cubs 3 at Padres 0 (57-54)

The pitching carried the weight in this one as the Cubs beat a lousy Padres team. Mark Prior returned and lead the way. We’ll talk about it in greater detail as the final two months of the season play out, but Mark was spectacular down the stretch, giving a glimpse as to just how dominant he could be.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mark Prior (.371). Mark threw six scoreless innings to pave the way for this victory. He allowed just two hits and one walk and struck out six.
  • Hero: Mark Guthrie (.313). Sometimes a hold is more valuable than a save. In this one, Guthrie was summoned with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning. With the Cubs clinging to a 1-0 lead, the game was on the line. He escaped with a strikeout and a fielder’s choice grounder.
  • Sidekick: Ramon Martinez (.164). Ramon continued the hot streak we told you about last time as he took over as the regular second baseman with Mark Grudzielanek having a broken hand. Ramon had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. Included was a third inning RBI double that was the game’s only run until the ninth inning.
  • Billy Goat: Kyle Farnsworth (-.210). There is good table setting and there is bad table setting. Mark Guthrie showed up on the Hero podium despite only facing two hitters. That was possible because Kyle Farnsworth faced four batters and allowed a double and two walks.
  • Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.105). Sammy had one hit in four at bats.
  • Kid: Kenny Lofton (-.082). Kenny also had one hit in four at bats. He scored the Cubs’ third inning run.

Game 112, August 6: Cubs 3 at Padres 2 (58-54)

The Cubs won a third straight game, once more behind a strong starting pitcher outing. Kerry Wood followed Prior’s strong game with a very good one of his own. Sammy Sosa hit a two-run homer in the fourth to give the Cubs the games’ first two runs.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Kerry Wood (.223). Kerry threw 7⅓ innings. He allowed five hits, four walks and two runs. He allowed a home run and struck out 10. Despite a couple of rough starts that we’ll take a look at later in August, Kerry was 4-3 with a 2.53 ERA from August 1 until the end of the year. He threw 64 innings across 10 games and struck out 84 batters. He allowed 19 runs (18 earned).
  • Hero: Joe Borowski (182). Joe threw a perfect ninth for his 21st save. He struck out one.
  • Sidekick: Sammy Sosa (.178). Sosa had just the one hit in four at bats, but the two-run homer game them a lead that they never relinquished.
  • Billy Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.075). Ramirez was hitless in four at bats with one strikeout.
  • Goat: Damian Miller (-.060). Damian had one hit in four at bats. But he struck out twice.
  • Kid: Troy O’Leary (-.033). O’Leary had one at bat off of the bench and was hitless.

Game 113, August 7: Cubs 9 at Padres 3 (59-54)

The Cubs completed the three-game sweep and extended their winning streak to four. This was their longest winning streak since June 11. Once again, a strong pitching performance aided the win. But even more important to this win were the nine runs the Cubs scored in the first five innings. This was a team effort. Six Cubs had two hits each. Four Cubs drove in two runs.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Moises Alou (.173). Alou had one of three Cubs homers and also doubled. He had two hits, a walk and two RBI in five plate appearances.
  • Hero: Sammy Sosa (.163). Sammy hit a two run homer in the third to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead that Alou followed with his homer. Sammy drove in two and scored one.
  • Sidekick: Carlos Zambrano (.149). Carlos threw six innings and allowed seven hits, three walks and one run. He struck out eight.
  • Billy Goat: Aramis Ramirez (-.031). One of the few Cubs that didn’t really get in on the scoring. He did have one hit and one run scored.
  • Goat: Alex Gonzalez (-.031). Gonzalez was the only starting position player to go hitless. He was hitless in four at bats with one strikeout.
  • Kid: Doug Glanville (-.001). Doug came in late and got two at bats and was hitless.

Game 114, August 8: Cubs 1 at Dodgers 3 (59-55)

Shawn Estes wasn’t particularly bad in this one, but he was tagged with the win as the offense managed only three hits, two walks and one run. The Cubs four game streak came to an end. But for the fifth straight game, the Cubs held an opponent to three runs or less. It was as true in 2003 as it is now that if you hold an opponent to three runs or less you were very likely to win. The Cubs won 80% of the games in which they held their opponent to three or fewer runs (just above average of 79.4% for all teams).

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Aramis Ramirez (.063). Ramirez had a solo homer for the Cubs only run. He had four at bats.
  • Hero: Paul Bako (.026). One walk in three plate appearances was enough to land him here.
  • Sidekick: Mike Remlinger (.012). Mike threw a scoreless eighth, striking out two of the three batters he faced.
  • Billy Goat: Moises Alou (-.118) Alou was hitless in four at bats and struck out three times.
  • Goat: Kenny Lofton (-.107). Kenny was hitless in four at bats with one strikeout.
  • Kid: Shawn Estes (-.099). This same performance can occasionally land on the Hero side. He threw seven innings allowing eight hits, four walks, a home run, and three runs (two earned). He struck out six.

Game 115, August 9: Cubs 1 at Dodgers 6 (59-56)

The first clunker out of the pitching staff in almost a week. The offense only managed four hits in seven innings against Dodgers starter Wilson Alvarez. The Dodgers pitching totally stifled the Cubs in the first two games of this series.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Ramon Martinez (.041). Ramon stayed hot with two hits in four at bats.
  • Hero: Aramis Ramirez (.017). Ramirez had one hit in three at bats.
  • Sidekick: Mark Guthrie/Dave Veres (.001). Each of the two threw one scoreless inning. Veres had one strikeout.
  • Billy Goat: Matt Clement (-.310). Matt threw five innings and allowed six hits, including two homers, four walks and five runs. He struck out four.
  • Goat: Sammy Sosa (-.071). Sosa was hitless in three at bats with a strike out.
  • Kid: Doug Glanville (-.096). Doug got a start and had one hit in four at bats.

Game 116, August 10: Cubs 3 at Dodgers 1 (60-56)

Mark Prior makes his second very strong start of the road trip. The offense plates two in the first and the Cubs make it hold up for the win. One more strong pitching performance and the Cubs register four wins in six games on the trip.

Three Heroes/Three Goats:

  • Superhero: Mark Prior (.467). Mark went the distance allowing five hits, one walk and one runs. He struck out nine. After coming off the disabled list, Mark was 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA. He struck out 95 batters in 82⅔ innings while only allowing 14 runs. Mark logged an average of more than seven innings per start over the last 11 starts of the year, including two complete games. The only loss was the one game in which he didn’t complete at least six innings and in that one he allowed three runs over 5⅔. It was the last really dominant stretch by a Cubs starter I remember before Jake Arrieta.
  • Hero: Sammy Sosa (.310). Sammy provided nearly all of the offense in this one. Kevin Brown allowed five hits over seven innings of work. But three of them were to Sammy and two of them left the yard. Sammy drove in all three runs and scored two of them.
  • Sidekick: Damian Miller (.029). One hit and one walk in three plate appearances is good enough for the last spot.
  • Billy Goat: Troy O’Leary (-.082). Troy was hitless in four at bats, with a strikeout, as Moises Alou got a day off in left.
  • Goat: Ramon Martinez (-.078). Ramon was also hitless in four at bats, bringing an end to his hitting streak. He struck out twice.
  • Kid: Augie Ojeda (-.063). Augie was hitless in three at bats in a start at short stop. We’ll talk more about Augie next time, but he was in his fourth season as a Cub in 2003. He played in 12 games in 2003 with a .120/.185/.120 line (-33 wRC+) over 30 games and 81 plate appearances.

The Cubs managed to take another four of six on this road trip despite dropping two in Los Angeles. The series loss in Los Angeles stopped a stretch of four consecutive series wins. They had been 9-3 over those 12 games. Still, 10-5 over a 15 game stretch is fantastic.

With the positive results, the Cubs had trimmed another game off of their deficit and were now 2½ games out of first. They actually left San Diego at 1½ (and had briefly moved back into second), but then dropped back in LA. Things were really tightening up though as the Cubs found themselves in third place with now only 46 games to play.

Pitching lead the way on this trip. That was the calling card of this Cubs team to be sure. The bats improved down the stretch, but this team was built on starting pitching. The Cubs were heading back home. Waiting there would be the first place Houston Astros who were coming for games. The homestand would then continue with a rematch with the Dodgers.

The Cubs would play seven of 10 games overall against the Astros with a trip to Houston following the next homestand. So the games we’ll cover next week were some of the biggest games of the year. These were the final seven games of the year between those two clubs. It is always extremely important when you are chasing a team and facing them the last time to at minimum hold your ground and hopefully close on them so you don’t have to sit and wait and hope for someone else to do your dirty work. The Cubs would seemingly need to take at least four of seven. Could they do it? The advantage was theirs with four at Wrigley in the stretch of games.

Drop in next week for a look at this pivotal August homestand.

Until then, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.