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Position Breakdown: Bullpen

Carlos MarmolAfter breaking down the starters a few days ago, it’s time to look at the guys who will be working off of their performances.

The Cubs’ bullpen has always been an issue of concern, and they have been going from closer to closer pretty much every season.

Most recently, Kerry Wood and Kevin Gregg held down the closer position, but neither of them were closer for more than one season. So what will the bullpen look like this season?

Closer: Carlos Marmol
Rest of bullpen: Complete Mess

I know that doesn’t offer up too much when it comes to telling you who will pitch what innings this season, but at this point, you’re guess is as good as mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Position Breakdown: Starting Pitching

Randy WellsThis is going to be the first in a four part series breaking down four positions for the Chicago Cubs.

Part one is going to be break down the Chicago Cubs’ pitching, after this article I will be taking on the infield, outfield and bullpen.

The Cubs have been known for having solid starting pitching, and this season should be no different. Here is the expected rotation:

1. Carlos Zambrano
2. Ted Lilly
3. Ryan Dempster
4. Randy Wells
5. Tom Gorzelanny
Others who could start games: Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Silva. Read the rest of this entry »

Come to Think of It…Cubs With Decisions to Make; Jeff Samardzija Going Down to Iowa

a1Today is “Earth Hour”, where people are encouraged to shut off their lights for one hour in a symbolic act to conserve energy. But in Arizona, there is nothing symbolic about the decisions Lou Piniella, Larry Rothschild and the gang have to make.

In the bullpen, only four spots are set. The closer will either be Carlos Marmol or Kevin Gregg, with the slight edge going to Marmol at this point. However, Gregg has pitched very well this spring. Either way, one will pitch in the eighth and one in the ninth.

So, with two spots belonging to Marmol and Gregg, that leaves Aaron Heilman as the sixth and seventh inning man. Next, there is the lone lefty in the pen, Neal Cotts. That makes a total of four.

If they go with 11 pitchers, that leaves two remaining spots. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, Bruce Levine of said this morning that the Cubs have decided to send Jeff Samardzija to Iowa, where he can be stretched out in case another starter is needed.

Samardzija has an excellent fastball and a splitter that he doesn’t always command well. He needs to work on his command and another pitch if he wants to be a starter. He would be better in the bullpen, where two pitches are all you need.

I would have groomed him to be a closer from the start. He has the heater and the makeup, as a former Notre Dame football player, to do that job. Alas, no one from the Cubs asked me for my opinion.

Among other bullpen candidates, a couple are out of options and one, David Patton, is a rule 5 draft pick so he would have to be offered back to Colorado for $25,000 if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster.

And Patton has looked good this spring. Rothschild is impressed by his poise and has said he has the best curve ball he has seen all year. Since he has never pitched above Class A, however, it would be quite a story if he did go north with the team.

The two veterans who are out of options, Luis Vizcaino and Chad Gaudin, would likely be lost if they fail to make the team. Both have guaranteed major league contracts, too.

Vizcaino is set to make $3.5 million and Gaudin was signed for $2 million. You can expect Jim Hendry to be trying to trade one or both of these pitchers. Gaudin has looked better since struggling mightily early on, while Vizcaino’s control has improved somewhat.

Other candidates include Angel Guzman, who has the fastball pumping in at 95 MPH, but continues to struggle with his command.

41-year-old lefty Mike Stanton is in camp, but he’s certainly a dark horse candidate to make the team. Another old veteran, Chad Fox, is back in camp once again, and has pitched well. But with his history of injuries, it’s likely they could sneak him through waivers if they wanted to hang on to him.

Guys like Jeff Stevens and Kevin Hart haven’t pitched well this spring, but they still have minor league options remaining. I haven’t heard much regarding the chances of Jose Ascanio, though he also has options remaining.

On the position battle front, in an ideal world, center field would be split between Reed Johnson and the speedy Joey Gathright. But economics dictate that Kosuke Fukudome will likely get the lion’s share of the at-bats early on, since he will start against right-handed pitchers.

The backup catcher will likely be Paul Bako, though Koyie Hill has looked good, making a remarkable recovery from a gruesome injury. Former White Sox catcher Mark Johnson is also in camp.

April 6 can’t happen soon enough, come to think of it.

-Bob Warja

Come to Think of It…The Long and Short of Cubs Pitching This Spring

The spring training home for the Chicago Cubs

The spring training home for the Chicago Cubs

Only 21 days left until Opening Day, Cubs fans. With the seemingly never-ending spring training in full bloom in sunny Arizona, now is a good time to examine the potential roster for the 25-man club that will go north with the team.

Today, let’s take a look at the pitchers, since there is a little more uncertainty there than with the position players.

The Fifth Starter’s Competition Is All But Over

While Lou Piniella hasn’t made any official announcement, it seems clear that Sean Marshall has won the derby to be the fifth man in the Cubs rotation. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be in the bullpen to start the season, due to early off-days and rainouts (dare we say snow-outs?).

Marshall has had a good spring. He pitched into the fifth inning on Friday, allowing three hits and an unearned run (caused by his own error), and he has a 0.38 ERA for the spring.

Helping to make the decision easier is the fact that the other candidates have not exactly distinguished themselves.

With three off-days in April, it might be a good idea to let Marshall stay for an extended spring training, so he is stretched out and ready to go when they need that fifth starter.

So, barring anything unforeseen (such as an injury or unlikely trade), it appears that Marshall is the chosen one.

However, one of the odd men out may be…

Chad Gaudin

Gaudin has looked awful this spring and is out of options. In 1.2 innings on Friday, Gaudin allowed five hits and four walks. He is set to earn $2 million this year, but if the Cubs release him by Wednesday they will owe him only 30 days pay.

I think it would make sense for the Cubs to release Gaudin, as he appears to have nothing. Perhaps his crazy dumpster injury from last year is still bothering him, who knows?

They could try to trade Gaudin since his contract is relatively agreeable, but a 10.38 ERA in the spring won’t make him all that coveted.

If they release him, it would open a spot for…

Luis Vizcaino

Vizcaino hasn’t been real good this spring (a 5.39 ERA), but he is likely untradeable due to his relatively hefty contract. This, combined with his having thrown a little better on Friday, makes him a likely choice to fill a role in the Cubs bullpen.

Plus, he’s been better than…

Angel Guzman

Guzman was initially drafted by the Cubs and is back for second tour of duty with the club, but it’s likely to be his last. He has allowed eight earned runs in five innings this spring.

Based on how poorly he’s thrown, it would appear that Guzman is headed elsewhere (i.e., out of the organization). He’s out of options, and at 27 is no longer a prospect, so it looks like Guzman will be spreading his wings on another team this season.

One guy who certainly isn’t going anywhere is the young and talented…

Jeff Samardzija

It is clear that the Cubs organization wants “The Shark” to be a starting pitcher, so that likely means a trip to Iowa to begin the season.

Ah, but wait, not so fast. Here are Piniella’s comments on Samardzija:

“We are going to take the best pitchers north, so if Samardzija does not get the fifth spot, he will get all the consideration in the world in the bullpen,” Piniella said. “But let’s see how the organization feels. The organization has a say in that also. We’ll come up with the right conclusion. [Pitching coach Larry Rothschild] likes the improvement of his second and third pitches. And how you improve that the most is by starting and using him more. Usually when you come into a ballgame out of the bullpen, you rely on a couple of pitches.”

Samardzija has surrendered 10 hits and six earned runs in eight innings this spring, but he could still be a candidate for the bullpen if Gaudin is released. I believe the ‘pen is the best place for him at this time anyway.

However, given that the Cubs see him as a starter, it might make more sense to keep Samardzija stretched out at Iowa, so he could come up and fill in during the inevitable times when the fragile Rich Hardin can’t go.

But this one is still up in the air for now.

One bullpen spot that is not up in the air goes to…

Aaron Heilman

Heilman has pitched decently this spring, allowing nine hits but only two earned runs in 10 innings.

Aaron has appeared in four games, three of them as a starter, but his role is likely in the bullpen for the 2009 season.

Proving it’s good to pitch with your left hand is…

Neal Cotts

Unless Marshall starts the year in the bullpen, Cotts will be the lone lefty in the Cubs pen. He has pitched well in the spring, but it remains to be seen whether he can improve upon a shaky 2008 performance.

Keep an eye on a possible trade scenario if GM Jim Hendry decides he needs another southpaw in the pen or if Cotts struggles.

The closer may be…

Kevin Gregg

The battle for the closer’s job may be won by Gregg, though no announcement has been made.

Gregg was acquired from the Marlins in the offseason. He lost the closer’s job late in the season, more due to injury than poor performance. That said, he did blow the most saves in baseball in 2008.

But several of his blown saves occurred while he was suffering from a knee injury. Otherwise, his performance was fairly solid.

He has not allowed a run in five spring innings and is a lock to start the season as either the closer or main setup man.

No matter who the closer is, the Cubs best relief pitcher is…

Carlos Marmol

Marmol raised some eyebrows by pitching in the Dominican playoffs, then appearing in the WBC. Yet, Piniella said he would keep the closer derby open until Marmol returned, and he has. Marmol gave up a triple and hit two batters, but recovered by striking out two in a scoreless inning Saturday.

In terms of pure stuff, Marmol is an easy choice over Gregg. Over the past two seasons combined, he has a 2.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 12.06 K/9 ratio.

For his part, Marmol says all the right things.

“I don’t care. I’m glad to be on the team, and be on a good team,” he told the Chicago Tribune. ” It’s not my decision, it’s their decision. I pitch wherever they put me. I want to be a closer, but if they put me in the situation where I have to pitch the eighth, I’ll go out there. I want to help the team.”

Piniella has said he will decide by next weekend.

Another guy who is being counted on to help the team is…

Rich Harden

While Harden is obviously a lock for the rotation, one move the Cubs could make is to switch him and Sean Marshall in the 4/5 slot, in order to give Harden extra time to get ready for the season. Given his injury-prone nature, that might help make him stronger for later in the season.

Projected to start fourth behind Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, and Ted Lilly, the Cubs have taken a cautious approach with Harden this spring. He didn’t make his first appearance until last Tuesday, but was sharp, allowing two hits and striking out one in two innings pitched.

In his second outing of the spring today, Harden walked three and allowed three runs in a third inning he couldn’t finish against the Diamondbacks, but he said afterward that it was “probably the best I’ve felt in a long time. I probably could have thrown 100 pitches today.”

There is no doubt as to how good Harden can be when healthy, as long as you can live with the fact that you’ll only get five innings out of him. With the Cubs in 2008, he was 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. He says he wants to start 30 games this year, but Hendry wisely suggests 25 starts will be his best-case scenario.

Either way, keeping him healthy will be an arduous task for pitching coach Larry Rothschild again this season. A strong Rich Harden come October would go a long way toward postseason success for the Cubbies this year.

Knock on wood (not Kerry), but one starter whose health has been strong is…

Ryan Dempster

Despite Zambrano’s reputation, it was actually Dempster who was the Cubs ace last season.

The Cubs showed their commitment to Demp when they signed him to a four-year, $52M contract as a free agent this offseason. In return, Dempster showed his commitment to the team by deciding not to play for Canada in the WBC.

Dempster turns 32 this season, but has started only 195 games in his career, so he should have a lot left in the tank.

How many guys with a career losing record and a 4.55 ERA make $13 million per year? Well, in this case, it’s probably warranted after coming off of an impressive 2008 campaign (his shaky start in the playoffs notwithstanding). Dempster was 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA.

Dempster is 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in eight innings this spring.

He is unlikely to repeat his 2008 stat line this year, so the other Cubs starter will be expected to help pick up the slack, including…

Carlos Zambrano

The Cubs so-called “ace” will start on Opening Day for the fifth consecutive season. While battling little discussed shoulder problems and well known temper issues, Z hopes to bounce back from a 2008 performance that was, for him, somewhat shaky.

He has been decent this spring, with a 3.60 ERA in five innings, allowing four hits.

The Cubs will need him to be strong this year, but there is a steady rotation presence in…

Ted Lilly

Lilly did not allow a run in his two-inning start for the Cubs this spring. Despite a slow start in 2008, Lilly ended up 17-9 with a 4.09 ERA that was boosted by his penchant for surrendering the home run ball.

At 33, Lilly actually appears to be getting stronger, as evidenced by his strikeout rate, which was a career-best 8.09 per nine innings last season.

Other notable spring performances

Chad Fox, a 1.80 ERA in 5 innings; Jose Ascanio, no hits in 4 innings; Jeff Stevens (acquired from the Indians in the Mark DeRosa salary dump), seven hits in 4.2 IP; Kevin Hart, a 9.00 ERA in 5 IP; Mitch Atkins, a 10.50 ERA in two starts.

-Bob Warja

Spring Training is Here! Now When Does Regular Season Start?

There are 38 days and six hours from the time of writing this article until Opening Day for the Cubs against the Houston Astros, and even longer before the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, as their first two series are on the road against the Astros and Milwaukee Brewers.

But for now, we have only the first two Spring Training games to talk about, so lets take a look at what we have.

The Cubs were able to take the first Spring Training game against the Dodgers (wonder how that got scheduled) by the final of 5-3, however, pitcher Jeff Samardzija gave up two runs, both in his second and final inning of work.

“Actually, I felt a little better in the second inning,” Samardzija said. “It’s funny how that works. You make some decent pitches and get out of an inning one, two, three, and then you make some good pitches and give up a couple runs.”

Also in the game, Micah Hoffpauir hit a grand slam and Cubbie hopeful Mitch Atkins gave up one run and three hits over two innings.

In the Cubs second Spring Training game, they took down the Brew Crew 7-3 in Sean Marshall’s first shot to prove that he can handle the fifth starting spot this season.

Marshall gave up one run on four hits in two innings, nothing stellar but not horrible either.

We also had our first Carlos Mamol showing, he pitched one inning, allowing one run and one hit.

Jake Fox, another Cubbie hopeful, started at first base and hit a three-run home run.

Ted Lilly makes his lone Spring Training today against the Rangers, as the Cubs look to continue their perfect Spring Training (maybe not a good thing after the Detroit Lions).

Although Spring Training is a nice warm-up for the regular season, I look forward to, in 38-days, watching the Cubs take on the Astros as the regular season starts.

-Joe Willett

Come to Think of It: Cubs Light on List of 100 Best Prospects

Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, the respected organization’s 20th annual ranking, is out, and only two Chicago Cubs players are on the list. Neither is in the top 50.

In fairness to Jim Hendry and his management team, however, part of the reason is that, under Lou Piniella, the team has been more willing to call up young players and have them help at the major league level.

In fact, they had the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year in Geovany Soto, as we know.

And, they have traded away prospects in order to bring in other players that can help the team. Though none of them made this list, in the past, Marlins pitchers Renyel Pinto and Ricky Nolasco have made this list, as well as Felix Pie and Corey Patterson. Additionally, Lou Montanez is a fringe player on the Orioles roster, who did well in a brief late season stint as an outfielder (he was drafted as a shortstop).

Oft-injured fan favorite Kerry Wood left to join the Indians, and Jon Garland has had a nice career.

There have been many draft failures, however, too. Mark Pawelek, Ryan Harvey, Bobby Brownlie, and Ben Christiansen were all first-round picks by the Cubs in the last decade. And 2006 first-rounder Tyler Colvin is being projected as no more than a fourth outfielder.

And we all know what happened to Mark Prior, who is throwing towels with the Padres now.

But let’s get back to the list. To qualify, BA follows standard prospect guidelines, which means any player who has not exceeded the rookie limits of 130 at-bats or 50 innings in the major leagues (without regard to service time) is eligible for the list.

For the Cubs, 19 year-old third base prospect Josh Vitters comes in at No. 51, while Jeff Samardzija is at No. 79.

BA mentions that Vitters had the third highest hit total in the Midwest League last season.

As for “The Shark,” BA focuses on the dichotomy between his minor league ERA (4.26) versus his major league ERA with the Cubs (2.28). They don’t elaborate, but the implication is clear. They are questioning if his brief showing in 2008 with the Cubs is truly indicative of his future projections.

I like Jeff; he has a plus fastball, an improving splitter, and he continues to work on adding other pitches to his arsenal. And I really like the former Notre Dame football player’s makeup.

The question with him is whether he will be a starter this year or in the bullpen.

In my opinion, he will continue to be groomed as a starter. If he doesn’t make the team as the fifth starter, I believe he will go down to Iowa to continue being stretched out. He likely would be called up whenever Rich Harden can’t go, or if another injury befalls a starting pitcher.

Hopefully, it won’t be about Carlos Zambrano’s shoulder.

BA estimates Vitters’ ETA as 2010, though I personally think that’s a bit optimistic. Maybe a cup of coffee in September, but at his age, and with Aramis Ramirez firmly established at third base, there is no sense in rushing the young man.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the Cubs could move Vitters to another position. At third, his footwork is improving, and his arm is plenty strong, but he isn’t projected to ever be a plus defender.

His value clearly is his bat. He has a sweet swing, makes hard contact, and he will generate more power once he fills out.

One question I have is, where is Mitch Atkins on this list? Isn’t he a young pitcher who is being projected as a dark horse candidate for the fifth starter role?

In any event, while it has always been true, in this economy, it is especially important to develop your own players. You don’t necessarily have to keep them—they can be used as trading chips—but you need a strong farm system so you can avoid always having to rely on overpriced free agents.

There are other good prospect lists to review, including Keith Law of’s Top 100 prospects.

Law has Vitters ranked much higher, at No. 14. Law also has another Cub on his list, with righty pitcher Jay Jackson coming in at No. 98.

Come to think of it, it’s fun to come to think of Cubs prospects.

-Bob Warja

Pitchers and Catchers Report: This Calls for a Breakdown of Sorts

I apologize for being MIA over the past few days, I’ve been having internet troubles which could hinder the posting to this site over the next few days, but once I get everything straitened out, we should be ready for regular posting.

Now, on to what this article is truly about, baseball and the Chicago Cubs.

Pitchers and catchers reported on Friday to start getting ready for the season. I figured that this would be the perfect time to break down how our pitching staff is going to play this year.

Last season, the Cubs had one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, and late in the season the the trio of Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood shut down opposing offenses after the seventh, and Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden rarely let teams get the lead before that.

But that was a year ago, how are the Cubs going to fare this season? Lets start with those that will pitch the most innings.

Starting Pitching

The Cubs are one of the best pitching teams in the majors from their first through fourth pitchers.

Carlos Zambrano is a fiery player who has a ton of passion, which leads to some games where he lets his stuff get away from him, but when he is on, he is one of the best in the Majors and deserves to be the ace of this staff.

Ryan Dempster came on last season and was a real surprise last season, and re-signing him was major for the Cubs this offseason because it allowed them to stay away from Jake Peavy and save the farm system. He was strong all year and if he keeps it up, he could help the Cubs go deep this year.

Rich Harden was the big acquisition during last season. When he came to the Cubs, he was lights out posting an ERA of just over two and going 10-2, an outstanding second half.

Ted Lilly is a great fourth starter, his ERA was about four last season and he got a lot of strikeouts. The best part about him, his 17-9 record is fantastic for a fourth pitcher in the rotation.

The fifth spot in the rotation this year is going to be decided in spring training, but the spot is likely to either go to Sean Marshall or Aaron Heilman.

Marshall has shown signs of brilliance and he has also faltered at times. However, he kept his ERA under four last year in about 65 innings.

Heilman is a new addition to the Cubs and would bring more experience and reliability to the Cubs if he were to start, but his above five ERA scares me a little bit.

Relief Pitching

The Cubs also had a lockdown bullpen last season, but they lost Wood and it has been said that Samardzija would start the season with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

However, it looks like the Cubs have two viable options for the closer this year. Although it Marmol will likely take the job, Lou Piniella has publicly stated that newcomer Kevin Gregg will have an opportunity to be the closer as well, and it will be an open competition.

If Marmol does become the close and Samardzija stays on (he should after the way he played last year) the Cubs could still have a strong bullpen with Gregg, Samardzija and Marmol as the most used pitchers.

Either way, the Cubs should still have a solid bullpen this season.

Expect the pitching staff this season to be just as strong if not stronger than last year, I like Marmol as a closer and I think that he could be one of the best in the majors within the next few years.

Our starters are also among the best in the league, and I love the way our pitchers are set up.

Look for an outstanding pitching year from the Cubs.

Come to Think of it…On the Pilgimage from Touchdown Jesus to Baseball Mecca

Jeff Samardzija has certainly had quite a ride already in his short but exciting sporting career. From catching touchdown passes at Notre Dame to striking out batters at Wrigley Field, the 6’5″ right-handed flamethrower is enjoying life to the fullest.

And no, he insists, he is not taking anything for granted.

As he gets in his black Escalade and drives, listening to Led Zeppelin in his CD player, he drives slowly to enjoy the scenery. And not just the scantily clad female variety, either. Just enjoying the fact that he is playing baseball in such a great sports city for a first-place Cubs team and having his story told in the latest Sports Illustrated, courtesy of an article written by Luke Winn.

Some of this article was inspired by SI, come to think of it.

Samardzija knows he could be playing professional football. Heck, he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff award his junior season at Notre Dame, given to the college game’s top receiver. He caught 77 passes for 15 touchdowns that season.

The following June, the Cubs’ Jim Hendry took a flyer on him with a fifth-round draft selection when most everyone else thought Jeff’s ultimate destination was the NFL.

That summer, Samardzija divided his professional baseball time between the Rookie League and Class-A ball. In the winter, he caught 78 passes and 12 touchdowns for the Irish, who went to the Sugar Bowl to face LSU at the Superdome.

One of the attendees at the Superdome was Hendry, who met with Samardzija a few days later at Gibson’s Steakhouse in Rosemont, IL, to talk about his baseball future.

Samardzija still had options, as the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine were looming. Within days, however, he chose to take the Cubs’ offer, which included a $2.5 million signing bonus that would be forfeited if he returned to football.

After some early struggles as a starting pitcher in the Cubs’ system, Samardzija got off to a 4-1 start with a 3.13 ERA at Iowa this season, enough to earn him the promotion to Wrigley.

In his debut against the Florida Marlins, he hit 99 mph on the gun and has not looked back. Through 11 relief appearances—which, at week’s end, had included one-inning stints, two-inning stints, even a save—he had a 1.20 ERA with a 3.5-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He had also received a full vote of confidence from manager Lou Piniella. “He’s not intimidated,” Piniella says. “I’m comfortable using him in just about any situation.”

“The Shark,” as the 23-year-old was called at Notre Dame, can never outrun his football past. Cubs organist Gary Pressy plays the “Notre Dame Victory March” when Samardzija takes the hill, although the pitcher says he’d prefer Jimi Hendrix.

As Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild notes, Samardzija has no fear. Whatever role Lou throws him in, the bigger the stakes, the grander the stage, the better the kid performs.

In fact, some think that one of the reasons he initially struggled was that he missed feeding off of the energy created by the much larger stage of college football, with the crowds in minor-league baseball being relatively sparse in comparison.

But with Wrigley Field rocking and rolling every game, no such concern here. And Jeff is now a part of something very special brewing at Clark & Addison this year. Come to think of it, he may be providing some of the energy that this team has been missing for, oh, say 100 years or so. But hey, who’s counting?

-Bob Warja

Cubs Win 3-2: 11th Inning Heroics by Henry Blanco

The Chicago Cubs packed the place again as they beat the Cardinals 3-2 in a game that went 11, allowing the Cubbie faithful an extra two innings of free baseball.

Henry Blanco stepped to the plate with bases loaded against an infield and outfield that were both brought in with the expectation of Blanco not being able to hammer one out of the park.

Derek Lee led off with a walk, followed by an Aramis Ramirez single and an intentional walk to Kosuke Fukudome before Blanco hit a line-drive past Cesar Izturis to drive in Lee and win the game.

Ted Lilly started the game and pitched spectacular, but got hit with Rich Hardin syndrome with the Cubs offense seemingly unable to score runs.

Alfonso Soriano, Fukudome and Mark DeRosa were all hitless, going a combined 0-13. All-in-all, however, the Cubs were able to muster 10 hits, but only were able to score through the air.

Jim Edmonds wins todays MVC award (Most Valuable Cub) with a pair of solo jacks. The first came off Cardinals starter Branden Looper in the second inning, and followed it up by tossing his bat to the Cardinals dugout, as if to say, “How do you like me now?”

He then knocked another one out of the park into left field, barely clearing the ivy. This home run tied the game in the seventh inning and allowed the Cubs to send the game into extras.

It wasn’t all great for Edmonds, though. He also had a throwing error and grounded into a double play.

Albert Pujols got a lead-off single in the top of the 10th inning, but was thrown out on an attempt to steal second, leading to a scoreless inning by both teams.

The win went to Bob Howry, who looked strong in his one inning of work, striking out two batters.

Jeff Samardzija pitched well again, as he continues to surprise the Cubs with his lights out pitching. He went two innings this time, allowing just one hit and one walk. Over the season, his ERA is a minuscule 1.56, which bodes well for the bullpen.

The Brewers play tonight against the Washington Nationals, and if they lose, the Cubs lead will be up to six games in the NL Central, and they now have a seven game lead over the Cards.

These two teams face off again tomorrow at 2:55 pm, Carlos Zambrano (12-4) faces Todd Wellemeyer (8-4) for the second game of this weekend series.

Cubs Win 11-4: Exciting Comeback Highlighted by Mark DeRosa

The Cubs’ bats came alive again today giving them the series win against the Houston Astros.

The Cubs scored first in the bottom of the 2nd inning as Mark DeRosa doubled in Jim Edmonds for his first of many RBI today.

Houston came back quickly though, plating four total, thanks to Carlos Lee’s 3-run home run. Once again, Jason Marquis cannot seem to avoid the “big inning.”

But the bats came alive for the Cubs in the bottom of the 3rd as they scored eight on Mark DeRosa’s grand slam and Alfonso Soriano’s 3-run shot. Fukudome, Soto, and Marquis also had an RBI each in the game. The scoring for both teams stopped after the 4th as the Cubs had the lead, 11-4.

Marquis settle down after the top of the 3rd, finishing the day with 6.1 IP and 3 strikeouts. Following Marquis, Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija each had clean innings of their own. Jason Marquis was able to get his first win since late June, bringing his record to 7-7.

It was a good day for the Cubs offensively. For the second straight day, they scored eleven runs and Soriano continues to stay hot with 6 RBI in the last two games.

Kerry Wood is also supposed to return to the closer roll for his next appearance. Things seem to be going smoothly for the Cubs right now. After today’s win, their record is 69-46 with a 5 game lead above Milwaukee.

With an off day tomorrow, the Cubs can re-gain their focus for what looks to be a tough series against the Cardinals starting Friday.

-Mike Yadgir