It was almost a perfect end to a 2-game road trip in Philly, but then the Cubs woes with runners on 3rd base and less than 2 outs re-surfaced as the Cubs squandered a golden scoring opportunity against Jose Contreras in the top of the 9th inning. The Cubs trailed most of the day today, but kept battling back to tie the game up on 2 different occasions. But it wasn’t meant to be despite getting runners on 1st and 3rd with nobody out against Contreras (who is subbing for injured closer Brad Lidge) in the 9th inning. With the game tied at 4, Alfonso Soriano had a GREAT at-bat, fouling off pitch after pitch on a 3-2 count to eventually work a walk. Mike Fontenot then singled up the middle sending Soriano hustling to 3rd base. 1st and 3rd, nobody out — easy run, right? Not for this Cubs team. Contreras made Starlin Castro look silly, striking him out with ease. Aramis Ramirez then worked the count full after falling behind early, but swung at a pitch that my 3-year old would have known not to swing at. The pitch was at least 2 feet wide of the plate and the Phillies catcher had to lunge to make sure it wasn’t a wild pitch, but Ramirez somehow tried to swing at the pitch at the last second. Even with a 10 foot bat in his hands he probably would have missed it. Then it was Geovany Soto’s turn to make Contreras look good. He hit a lazy foul pop up that Ryan Howard snared for the final out, and instead of talking about another great come-from-behind win, we’re talking about how this team seems to lay an egg whenever they get a good scoring chance. It is so painful.
This is an EXCELLENT Phillies team with an amazingly deep offensive lineup, so I’ll give the Cubs for being in both games of the series. Holding the Phils to just 6 runs in 2 home games at the sand lot that is Citizens Bank Ballpark is a feat in and of itself. But when you get chances like this, good teams win. The Cubs are clearly just an average team at best. The Cubs made it interesting. After falling behind in the 1st inning on a Chase Utley home run, the Cubs answered with a Starlin Castro RBI single that scored Soriano in the 5th inning. Ryan Dempster couldn’t fully get out of a 2-out jam in the 6th inning and eventually served up Jimmy Rollins 3-run jack to deep right field that gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead. The Cubs could have mailed it in, but Derrek Lee immediately answered with a solo home run to lead off the 7th inning. Then with only 1 out, the Cubs loaded the bases with a walk and 2 singles, but once again, the Cubs failed to take full advantage of the scoring opportunity. Sure Tyler Colvin drove in a run with a sac fly, but someone needs to come through with a hit to break the game open in that situation. Xavier Nady who has been so hot as a pinch-hitter lunged at the 1st pitch he saw, and just like that, the threat was over again. Kosuke Fukudome forced the 4-4 tie with his lead-off solo home run to right field in the top of the 8th inning. But then John Grabow had another poor outing and gave the lead right back to the Phillies. He walked 2 of the 1st three batters that he faced and gave up Raul Ibanez’s game-winning single to right. Fukudome did his best to throw out Utley at home, but his throw was just off the line towards the 1st base line and Utley slid in ahead of Koyie Hill’s tag.
Then it was time for disappointment in the 9th.
Ryan Dempster pitched well, but not well enough. I feel like I say that for just about every start he has made during the last month. It’s gotta be frustrating for him being 2-5 with a 1.10 WHIP and a 3.73. At the same time, he has already given up 8 home runs this year in 62+ innings pitched – that is simply too many. If he cuts that home run number in half, Dempster is 5-2 and the Cubs are only 3 games out of 1st place in the NL Central.
Today’s loss was that much more painful given the near-perfect game that the Cubs played on Wednesday night in Philly. Tom Gorzelanny threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings (just 3 hits and 2 walks) in the 4-1 win, but left after getting hit with a line drive. The Cubs took an early 2-0 lead on an RBI single by Castro in the 3rd inning and an RBI single by Jeff Baker in the 7th inning. John Grabow gave up a run in the 8th inning, but Carlos Zambrano saved the day by getting Jayson Werth to ground out on a sensational play by Castro to end the threat with the tying run on 2nd base. Then Xavier Nady came through with another HUGE pinch-hit single that gave the Cubs 2 insurance runs with the bases loaded out 2 outs in the 9th inning. That made the save chance for Carlos Marmol a little easier in the bottom of the inning. Although Marmol walked Ibanez and hit Carlos Ruiz with a pitch, he struck out Ross Gload and Shane Victorino to pick up his 7th save of the season.
I know we should be happy that the Cubs split with the Phillies, but the same trends that keep occurring just don’t make me feel confident about this team. Poor clutch hitting is killing this team and preventing the club from taking bigger leads or any leads at all. If the Cubs took advantage of some of these scoring chances, that would take a lot of heat off of the pitching staff. And while the starters have been good, they must feel like they have to pitch a perfect game in order to get a win. The close games is taking its toll on a young bullpen that has under-performed. If Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol could pitch every day, it would be a different story. But since they can’t, Manager Lou Pinella has to go to some of his other options. Grabow is not getting it done and he has been a huge factor in the bullpen’s struggles. After the last 2 days, Grabow now has 3 losses with a 2.12 WHIP and an 8.44 ERA. If he wasn’t a veteran getting paid big bucks for a set-up man, he would have been sent down to Triple-A Iowa 2 weeks ago.
Ugghhh – I could go on and on. Let’s hope the Cubs can nip this losing streak in the bud and get things going again in Texas over the weekend. It won’t be easy, but it should be nice to be able to put Soriano in the DH spot and get a better defensive team out there with Tyler Colvin in the lineup for 3 straight days in left. Can’t wait…