Nothing warms a Cub’s fans heart more than a 500 record going into August and when coupled with a White Sox team mired so deeply in the cellar they squint when they see daylight makes for happy summer days. But going into August above 500 and playing not just good but playing great takes a Cub fan into rarefied atmosphere. Most years it’s over by this time of the season and we relish in our memories of the years it wasn’t, the years that held such much promise for us that never came to be.
One of my favorites was the 1989 Cubs, patched together with veterans and stars but whose hero’s were usually rookies that you had never heard of before. The team played on heart and emotion once coming back from a 9 to nothing deficit. Even though they didn’t win it all they showed me that it could happen, that the impossible was possible. That when a team comes together and plays as a team not only does the team win more and play better but the members of the team perform better.
Don Zimmer called them a special team and explained that during spring training they eliminated players not for what they did on the field but what they did in the clubhouse. Does that ring any bells fellow Cub fans?
This year’s team reminds me a lot of that roller coaster 1989 team, if that team was the roller coaster this team is the O boys. Soriono, Zambrono, Fontenot, Theriot, Marmol, DeRosa and the most important O of all, Lou. It takes a special kind of baseball man to take on the job of Cub manager, a Herculean task that many have tried and so far none have succeeded, to untie the Gordian knot of a championship. To take on the best in the National league as well as the fickle winds of Wrigley.
Lou Pinnella appears to have the right stuff, in the recent series against the Giants with the Cubs tied 2 to 2 the Giants were threatening with a man on third. Lou called a pitchout correctly smelling a squeeze leaving the runner at third a dead duck. Lou won that game just as sure as if he had pitched it himself. How many times have you seen hard hit balls hit right at Cub players that’s good coaching.
Last week against Saint Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright had the Cubs looking like the Cubs of April with just one hit in the first three innings with six K’s. Somebody in the Cubs dugout spotted something because the second time through the order 5 runs on 8 more hits. Giving Wainwright his first loss in since June 30th, had it been a 3 run homer you could say maybe he made a mistake with a pitch but this rally was made up of singles and doubles all with 2 outs.
The team that started the season as cold as grandma’s toes but have made up for lost time with late inning heroics. Perhaps the early season coldness, which caused so much frustration not only for the fans but for the players, was a good thing. The team was well aware that they were a lot better than they were hitting and Zambrano wasn’t pitching up to his potential. Now the long balls are staring to come with Sorriano and Derrick Lee hitting them in bunches along with Aramas Ramirez playing a defensive third base that matches his offensive prowess of a .552 slugging percentage and a MVP potential.
Up the middle are Theriot and Fontenot, most teams would be grateful just for one everyday playing rookie phenom. But these guys don’t play like rookies they play like champions. Both from the LSU College World Series championship team they brought their cool to town with them. Theriot’s cool play won him the everyday shortstop job by June Fontenot entered swinging, hitting over .400. Every one said he couldn’t continue at that clip and now having cooled down to the human realm of .309 with a .463 slugging percentage with 46 hits in 43 games. Theriot with 88 hits in 92 games plus 32 walks and 18 stolen bases, not bad for a couple of rookies huh? It’s like striking oil and gold at the same time you just don’t know which is worth more.
Mark DeRosa has been a one-man bench and a one man wrecking crew. Doing every job he’s been asked except peanut vendor and singing the national anthem. A .300 average and headed for 100 RBI season with 28 of his 88 hits being for extra bases. Lou should sleep well with problems like where to play DeRosa, if only he could catch! Now with Angel Pagan and Jacque Jones starting to hit it gets really interesting. After a rough introduction Jason Kendall is starting to hit as advertised making and already formidable Cub line up that much tougher.
But good pitching stops good hitting and vice versa right? The big Z has a date with Cy Young if the numbers continue, can one pitcher win the Cy Young award and come back player of the year in one season? Big Z turned it around in a big way and just seems to pitch better with every outing. But Zambrano’s not alone, of the five Cub starters only Jason Marquis has an ERA over 4. Ted Lilly 11-4 has pitched 132 innings giving up only 32 walks against 108 strikeouts or averaging two walks a game. Rich Hill has pitched a lot better than his 6-6 record would indicate.
The bullpen begs the question, are they that good because they get so many innings out of the starters or are they just that good? To me they’re just that good, especially when I see the beating inflicted on other bullpens by Cub bats. I think Will Ohman is the most under appreciated pitcher on the staff, he has the worst job of middle relief. He rarely gets the win he can’t get the save but he’s the guy that comes in with men on base and tries to stem the tide. When he succeeds it it’s forgotten about but when he fails its all his fault, Yes he gave up a home run to Barry Bonds but he also got him to line out the night before in the same situation. Hundreds of pitchers have given up home runs to Barry Bonds Ohman does his job and does it well.
Carlos Marmol has become a pitching machine giving up only 7 earn runs in 32 innings and walking 16 while only giving up 2 home runs. Fast becoming one of the premier set up/ closers in the game and then the Cubs have Ryan Demster behind him giving up only one home run in 32 innings. So the question in late innings for opposing batters has become, „What are you doing after the game?“
The O boys have been a lot of fun so far and if the continue to play up to their potential they will provide us all with a lot of fun long into October. Wild Card? Don’t be silly this team won’t win on any wild card. As they play today they are the class act of the National league, they’ve got division winner written all over them. But I’ve been a Cubs fan all my life, I know that just having the best players on a Cubs team isn’t always enough. But I’ve got my fingers crossed because I know the O word that scares me and all the other Cub fans, the most dreaded O word in the vocabulary, Oh no.
But I think this team can do it, they’ve got brawn and brains, the pitching and the hitting, the power and the speed and the ability to end global warming in our lifetime. For if these Cubs can go all the way and win the Worlds Championship hell will most certainly freeze over. I and millions of other Cubs fans can live out the rest of our lives rejoicing in the fact that we lived to see the day. But I won’t get too anxious yet not until the 27th out of the Championship game but in the meantime Oh Boy! This is fun!