It was an eventful week for the Cubbies, as they looked to silence all the critics that complain about their “woeful” road record as they faced the Padres and Dodgers in the wilderness that is So. Cal.
They started out the road trip with a bang, carrying on from their 7-0 home stand. They had two exciting comeback victories over the Padres.
Piniella might have to consider using Big Z in more pinch-hit situations, as he went 3-3 on Monday in a 7-6 win, with a single, RBI triple, and even legged out a bunt single in a key situation.
Zambrano only trails Soriano and Soto in slugging percentage for Cubs' regulars. Maybe Big Z should be considered as a possible DH in the World Series.
Whoops, my inner-Cedeno just came out. Stay inside Ronny, stay inside...
In more troubling news, fire-baller Carlos Marmol gave up a three run HR in the ninth to make it a one-run game and send Cubs' fans' heartbeats racing, well the few who were still awake, before Kid K came on to close shop.
This has been a worrying trend as Marmol hasn’t looked as dominant as usual lately. It's probably a result of Lou having to send him out there every game, which in turn has forced the Cubs to add a 13th pitcher to the roster (By the way, Marmol is in need of a nickname, he’s too good to not have one, any suggestions?).
The bats came out swinging again the next day, as the Cubs held off the Padres, 9-6, as Jason Marquis was “Hyde” in his season-long “Jekyll and Hyde” act. This included a balk when the opposing pitcher was on first and issuing five walks. One of them, in the fourth inning, caused Sweet Lou to trot out to the mound and whisper R-rated sweet nothings in Jason’s ear.
"It was one-sided," Marquis said of the conversation. "Obviously, he had some productive words, and we went from there. No hard feelings. He made great points when he went out there."
I can’t tell you what a joy it is, as a Cubs' fan, to watch Lou Piniella after dealing with many incompetent managers over the years.
Lou was also upset that he was forced to use Howry and Wood in the game on a day he didn’t want to, after Kevin Hart, who was just called up, gave up three runs in the eighth.
Jim Hendry needs to address the bullpen situation because there are only three guys that I trust in the bullpen: Howry, Marmol and Woody. They have all been overused already this year, and they are all right-handed.(On the flip-side, Woody's leading the NL in saves).
The Cubs were feeling good (who said they can’t win on the road?), as they had won nine straight going into a game against an old friend, the Mad Dog, Greg Maddux.
Mad Dog put all the Cubs bats to sleep in a 2-1 loss, which ironically wasted the best start on the road trip from Ted Lilly. Maddux’s vintage performance brings up the issue of the Cubs possibly bringing back the greatest RHP of his generation for a third stint.
It might be a good idea because who knows what Marquis will do on a given day, and Maddux will at least rub off valuable knowledge to the young pitchers.
The Cubs rebounded with another exciting one run victory, 5-4, against the Dodgers thanks to Fooky. He won a Japanese league showdown against Takashi Saito by driving in a ninth inning, go-ahead RBI single against Saito, ruining Saito’s bobble-head night.
Of course, the cardiac Cubbies increased Lou’s blood pressure once again, as Bob Howry had given up a game-tying two run HR in the eighth. Kid K notched another save by escaping a bases loaded jam in the ninth.
"It was an exciting game," Piniella said. "I've had all the fun I want for one evening."
Ryan Dempster gave Lou exactly what he didn’t want—a short outing by a starter, going only 5 1/3 innings before being pulled. This has been a troubling trend for Cubs starters and the arms in the bullpen are going to fall off at this rate.
Fooky couldn’t muster anything against another Japanese player the next day, starter Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda dominated the Cubs' line-up in a complete game four-hit shutout, as the Dodgers won 3-0.
It was another short performance by a Cubs' starter as Sean Gallagher went only five innings, but it was another encouraging outing for the rookie. It was his third straight start in which he has yielded three runs or less.
Surely Lou could count on Big Z to rescue the starters, right?
The only thing that needed rescuing was the Gatorade jugs after Zambrano took out his frustration on them after giving up the lead and five runs in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 7-3 loss. It was a classic Big Z tantrum, and one I’m pretty sure Michael Barrett was glad he wasn’t on the receiving end of.
"I was on the mound, and heard all this commotion," Piniella said. "I thought there was a wave going on [in the stands], and there was no wave. I came back in and said, 'What was all that noise about?' I missed it. If I would've been in the dugout, I probably would've enjoyed it.”
A wave? Did I mention how much I love Piniella?
If anyone can appreciate a tantrum, it is certainly Lou, and he doesn’t mind Big Z’s actions as long as he doesn’t get hurt, a.k.a pull a Brian Randle. While some complain about Zambrano’s antics, it's much more refreshing to see a player wear his emotions on his sleeve, than just go through the motions after struggling or in C.C. Sabathia’s case, head to the clubhouse fridge.
I bet you Zambrano comes out firing on all cylinders in his next start because it's what Zambrano always does after a tantrum. He feels like he has something to prove after a bad outing.
So after six games, the Cubs were at 3-3 on the road trip and one game away from a happy ending or more fuel being added to the fire of their road ineptness.
Who was on the mound for this crucial encounter? Jekyll and Hyde himself, Marquis.
Luckily for Cubs fans, it was Jekyll who showed up on Sunday, pitching 6 1/3 and giving up only one run, before Marmol and Woody took care of business.
There are two interesting things I’d like to point out from Sunday’s game. First, you have to appreciate Marmol’s guts, throwing curve-ball after curve-ball in fastball counts and freezing Dodger’s hitters. I love watching this man pitch.
Also, for the first time in history, I heard Joe Morgan repeatedly say nice things about the Cubs. I was aghast. Has acidulous Joe turned soft in his old years? I don’t know, but usually I can’t stand watching Sunday Night Baseball because of Morgan’s smug attitude, but he might have turned over a new leaf.
Overall, I look at the road-trip as a success. The Cubs finished over .500 on the trip and that’s all you can ask for on the road. There’s only three teams in baseball with better than .500 records on the road and last I checked, there are six division leaders, so people should stop acting like the Cubs are the only team which performs poorly on the road.
The bats struggled at the end of the trip, but you can't expect the team to slug their way to every victory. The Cubs became the first team to reach 40 wins in the league and that was thanks to two victories in a week and on the road by, you guessed it, Jason Marquis.
The West truly is a wild place.