Saturday, July 25, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Friday: Cubs 8, Reds 5

It was a good day on the field for the Cubs as Aramis Ramirez reminded us why his parents bestowed upon him the middle name "Clutch." Ramirez came through in the 1st with a two-out double to give the Cubs the lead, followed that with a two-out single his next time up to tie the game, and one-upped himself with a solo home run to put the Cubs in the lead later in the game. He added a double in the 9th for good measure.

And this is all on the heels of what he did in the series finale against Philadelphia. Just as the Phillies were gaining some momentum, Ramirez deposited a ball into the right-centerfield gap for a two-run double to help the Cubs pull away. While A-Ram may never get back to 100 percent physically this year, his clutchometer appears to be full.

It was great to see 14 hits and eight runs on the heels of their offensive outburst in Philly. And, frankly, the Cubs have to hit the Reds. Dusty Baker's bunch entered this series with a 7.73 road ERA this month, and just the 11th best ERA in the NL overall. For the record, the Cubs have now faced the 16th, 13th and 11th ranked pitching staffs consecutively out of the break.

Fukudome went 2-for-4 and is now batting .333 in the leadoff spot. And while Derrek Lee had cooled off a bit, just 5-for-24 entering Friday, he had two hits including a long home run in the 9th.

And Randy Wells just continues to impress. He tallied his sixth win in his last seven starts, matching Harden's win total and giving him more wins than Ryan Dempster despite the fact that he didn't make a start until May 8. It was another quality start, a category in which the Cubs are tied for the league lead with Colorado. And Wells could have gone past the 6th (he had just 88 pitches), but he was taken down for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and one out.

But as good as things went on the field Friday, they went just as badly off the field. First, the DL musical chairs game continued as it was announced that Lilly will miss today's start and is likely headed to the DL. With Dempster set to return Tuesday, the Cubs just had to suffer another injury as they seem destined to never have everyone on board at the same time this season. Kevin Hart will pitch today and will presumably go from being Dempster's fill-in to Lilly's.

And earlier in the day, the Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday from the A's to support Albert Pujols in the lineup. Not surprisingly, La Russa put him in the cleanup spot so that pitchers have to think twice before pitching around Albert. Holliday went 4-for-5 to help the Cards upend the Phillies and stay 1 1/2 games up on both the Cubs and Astros.

This is a great move for the Cardinals, and helps shore up an offense (along with fellow trade pick-ups Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo) that has kept the Cards from taking off this year. We all know that the Cubs have more potential than any team in the Central, but if Soriano and Bradley refuse to get going down the stretch, the division might not wait around at the .500 mark any more.

On the bright side, the Cardinals gave up a lot for what could be a two-month rental. Third baseman Brett Wallace was listed as the best hitter in last year's draft, and is the Cardinals only bluechip prospect. They also shipped outfielder Shane Peterson and right-hander Clayton Mortensen to the A's.

With Lilly out, today's game sets up as a tough one. Johnny Cueto is the Reds' best starter and shut down the Cubs with seven scoreless innings back on April 22. However, his last four road games have been terrible, and Kevin Hart has pitched respectably in his two starts.

Go get 'em, Cubbies.

***UPDATE***Lilly will not only be placed on the DL, but he won't even pick up a baseball for two weeks and could miss 4-5 starts. Righty Justin Berg was called up from Triple-A to take Lilly's roster spot. In 24 games at Triple-A, Berg is 4-1 with a 2.00 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 36 innings.

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