What a difference a week makes. The Cubs had their best single week of the season and for the first time since 1937 they won their first 5 games to start the month of May. While Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Jacque Jones had huge offensive weeks, the pitching staff continued to perform well for Lou Piniella. The Cubs dug themselves out the early season hole this past week, now the trick is to continue to win games in bunches and put the horrible start to the season behind them.
The NL Central received good news on Sunday when the Yankees announced Roger Clemens will be pitching for them in the Bronx this summer….for a hefty sum of course. The team, other than the Cubs, making the most noise in the league continues to be the Milwaukee Brewers who are playing their best ball since moving to the National League in 1998. Here are the highlights from the past week around the central….
The Brewers are the hottest team in baseball and own the best record in the big leagues at 21-10 (Boston has the best record in the AL, 20-10). The Brewers, Cubs and Detroit Tigers are all 8-2 in their last 10, tied for the best stretch in the majors while the Brewers are 8-1 in their last 9. Prince Fielder hit two home runs in the come from behind win against the Pirates in the series finale on Sunday. The Brewers took three of four from the slumping Pirates in their recent 4-game series. Before the Pirates series, the Brewers swept the Cardinals in the aftermath of the death of Josh Hancock.
J.J. Hardy is playing more like Alex Rodriguez than Alex Gonzalez and is second on the Brewers behind Prince Fielder for the team lead in home runs (Hardy, 8 – Fielder, 9) and the two are tied for the team lead in RBI’s with 26. Hardy hit .519 (14-27) with a .567 OBP to go along with 2 home runs and 10 RBI’s in the last week. Hardy is hitting .339 with a .396 OBP and a .606 SLG on the year, by far the best on the Brewers squad.
After a 0-2 start, Jeff Suppan has won his last 5 in a row. Couple his record with an ERA of 2.63 (1.25 WHIP) and he has become the ace of the Brewers staff….followed closely by Chris Capuano who is 4-0 with a 2.90 ERA (1.19 WHIP) in 6 starts. Derrick Turnbow has returned to form and has been lights out in the setup role (2.03 ERA) for Francisco Cordero. Cordero has saved 12 games, has not allowed an earned run this season and was named the Delivery Man of the Month for April.
- May 7 – May 9 – The Washington Nationals at Miller Park
- May 11 – May 13 – The New York Mets at Shea Stadium
The Chicago Cubs
The Cubs boast the major’s longest current winning streak, 5 games, and are coming off their best week of the season. While many will argue the Cubs 8-2 record over the last 10 games is not very impressive with wins against the Cardinals, Pirates and Nationals, it is worth mentioning the following:
- The Cubs entered the weekend series in St. Louis with an 18-40 record in St. Louis over the last six full seasons.
- The Pirates were a game under .500, just finished a 3-game sweep of the Astros before losing 2 of 3 to the Reds.
- The Nationals, while possibly being the worst team in the majors, have played the Cubs very well in the past and under the previous regime these were games the Cubs were supposed to win, but never could.
Derrek Lee is leading the world with a .414 batting average and recorded an extra base hit in 9 straight games (Lee hit at least one double in eight straight games). He is currently working on a 14-game hitting streak and has reached base in all 29 games the Cubs have played this season. Alfonso Soriano hit home runs in consecutive games to start the month. Lee hit .524 with a .583 OBP over the last week while Soriano hit .440 with a .440 OBP. Ryan Theriot led the Cubs with a .647 OBP in the last 7 days.
- May 8 – May 10 – The Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field
- May 11 – May 13 – The Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park
The Cincinnati Reds
The Reds salvaged the last game of the 3-game series against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday thanks in large part to Josh Hamilton. Hamilton hit two more home runs on Sunday to run his season total to 8. Hamilton had a great week after being named the NL Rookie of the Month for April (.318/.400/.455). The Reds as a team struggled this past week. After taking 2 of 3 in Pittsburgh to end April, they lost 2 of 3 in Houston. For the week the Reds were 3-4.
Reds’ pitching had a rough week, with the exception of Bronson Arroyo. Aaron Harang was 1-1 with 6.92 ERA….10 earned run in 18 innings. Mike Stanton blew a save and posted an 0-2 record with a 18.00 ERA. As a team, the Reds did not record a save until Sunday’s 9-3 victory over the Rockies.
- May 7 – May 10 – The Houston Astros at Great American Ball Park
- May 11 – May 13 – The Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium
The Houston Astros
The Astros were having a bad week before receiving the news they had been outbid for the services of Roger Clemens. With the Rocket slated to pitch in the Bronx, the Astros will have to find other answers to their pitching woes. Matt Albers came up big for the ‘Stros in Saturday’s win against the Cardinals but the big story was the grand slam hit by their prize prospect, Hunter Pence, off of Dennis Dove (who replaced Josh Hancock in the Cardinals bullpen). The Astros are starting to hit but they are struggling with runners in scoring position. This past week as a team they hit just two home runs. Carlos Lee (.409/.440) and Lance Berkman (.375/.615) are starting to get hot.
The Astros dropped 2 of 3 to the Cardinals in St. Louis after taking 2 of 3 from the Reds at home and finished the week 3-4.
- May 7 – May 10 – The Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park
- May 11 – May 13 – The Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field
The Pittsburgh Pirates
The 7th inning of Tuesday’s suspended game against the Cubs changed the Pirates entire week. At the end of the 6th inning, the rain began falling harder, the Pirates were ahead of the Cubs 5-2 and it appeared to everyone the Pirates were well on their way to winning the second game of the series. With Ian Snell slated to pitch the finale, many in Pittsburgh were thinking of a sweep against the Cubs and a season record that was 3 games over .500. Cesar Izturis changed those plans with his 2-out single and by Wednesday afternoon the two teams fortunes had been reversed and the Pirates have been in a tailspin ever since.
The Pirates dropped 3 out of 4 to the Brewers and after reaching .500 on Monday with a 12-12 record, the Pirates have lost 5 of their last 6 and finished the week with a 2-6 record. The Pirates are a dangerous team and with the fact the Cubs have a big 3-game series starting on Tuesday against them, no one should take them lightly. Xavier Nady is back in the starting lineup and with a pair of lefties pitching on Tuesday and Wednesday….the upcoming series will be much like the one the two teams just completed.
- May 8 – May 10 – The Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field
- May 11 – May 13 – The Atlanta Braves at PNC Park
The St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals had a week they would soon like to forget. After the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a cover story entitled, “No Tinker, No Evers, No Chance” that rubbed the nose in all of the Cubs failures over the years, they dropped the first two games of the series to the Cubs before the death of Josh Hancock. After the postponement of the Sunday night game against the Cubs, they were swept in a 3-game series by the Brewers at Miller Park. News surfaced that Hancock was driving under the influence and Tony LaRussa and Walt Jocketty responded by banning alcohol in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. David Eckstein was moved down in the order during the series against the Brewers’ and on Friday night against the Astros, LaRussa used Preston Wilson in the leadoff spot.
On Saturday, the Cardinals announced Chris Carpenter would have shoulder surgery on Tuesday and miss at least the next three months. On Sunday morning they placed Preston Wilson on the 15-day DL….one of several moves for the Cardinals on Sunday morning. The Cardinals are not getting any production out of their leadoff spot and have used eight different players there this season. After using Wilson at the top of the order on Friday, LaRussa inserted Scott Spiezio there on Saturday and Adam Kennedy on Sunday.
The Cardinals did take 2 of 3 from the Astros to finish the week 2-4 but they find themselves in unfamiliar territory….last place in the central, 8 games back of the Brewers.
- May 7 – May 9 – The Colorado Rockies at Busch Stadium
- May 11 – May 13 – The San Diego Padres at PETCO Park
NL Central Division Standings
- Brewers – 21-10/.677
- Cubs – 15-14/.517, 5 GB
- Reds – 14-17/.452, 7 GB
- Astros – 13-17/.433, 7 1/2 GB
- Pirates – 13-17/.433, 7 1/2 GB
- Cardinals – 12-17/.414, 8 GB
Well, that’s the week that was. Shaun and is colorful weekly recaps will return next week.