Consistently Inconsistent

Game One Hundred Thirty-Three – Cubs 1 Astros 6
WP – Wandy Rodriguez (8-12) LP – Sean Marshall (7-7) Save – None

Lou Piniella’s crew could not build any momentum after their series win against the Brewers and suffered a let down against an old nemesis, with a new face. Hunter Pence, the Astros’ top prospect, put on an impressive show at Wrigley on Friday afternoon. Pence scored the first run of the day after Sean Marshall walked him to start the game. Pence then hit home runs in consecutive at bats in the 4th and 6th innings that drove in the other 5 Astros’ runs. Sean Marshall barely got out of the 1st inning after walking 3 batters and left after 3 2/3 innings. Marshall gave up 4 runs, 1 earned, on 5 hits with 4 walks and 3 strikeouts. Michael Wuertz surrendered Pence’s second home run and gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in 2 1/3 innings. Cubs pitching struggled once again throwing strikes and walked 7 on the afternoon.

The Cubs lost their 4th game in a row to the Astros while giving Wandy Rodriguez his first career win at Wrigley. Rodriguez threw 6 innings of shutout ball and gave up just 4 hits, all singles. Rodriguez won only his second road start of the year with a lot of help from the Cubs aggressiveness at the plate. The Cubs offense could not string together any hits. In their last 5 games they are 8-for-47 with runners in scoring position and have scored 6 runs in their last 4 games against the Astros. The Cubs are 2-2 on their current homestand and with the loss they finished August with a 12-16 record.

Friday afternoon was the kind of game that is expected after a hard-fought series, but one a manager would always like to avoid. Piniella’s lineup appeared tired and pressing. There were countless infield pop ups and when they got the ball out of the infield, it was either a routine fly or just short of the wall. A day game after the dramatic win on Thursday was a uphill battle from the beginning.

Jim Hendry announced right before game time he had reacquired the “Human Rain Delay” from the Orioles in exchange for Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry. While Jim Hendry paid a lot for Steve Trachsel, he will give Lou Piniella another veteran arm with pennant race experience. The Cubs have a very solid staff but outings like the starters have had this week will kill the bullpen over the next month. Lou Piniella said after the game that Trachsel will be used in spot starts and in situations against specific teams….the term 6-man rotation was mentioned but not confirmed. Trachsel will start a game in the Dodgers’ series next week.The move received a little bit of justification after Marshall’s performance on Friday.

Sean Marshall followed Lilly’s 38-pitch 1st inning on Thursday with a 31-pitch opening frame of his own….and it could have been a lot worse. The Astros’ bailed him out and to say Marshall escaped the 1st inning would be an understatement. Marshall did not throw a first pitch strike to the first 4 hitters.

He walked Hunter Pence to start the game. Craig Biggio worked the count to 3-2 before striking out on ball 4. Lance Berkman doubled to left to score Pence. Marshall fell behind Carlos Lee, 3-0, before throwing ball 4 intentionally wide. Mark Loretta struck out (the first batter Marshall threw strike one to). Ty Wigginton walked to load the bases. Chris Burke then popped out to DeRosa on a 3-1 pitch to end the inning.

After Marshall retired the Astros in order in the 2nd, he worked around a leadoff infield single by Craig Biggio in the 3rd. But it all fell apart in the 4th inning.

Wigginton reached on an error by Aramis Ramirez to start the 4th inning. Burke followed with a single but Brad Ausmus flied out for the 1st out. Rodriguez sacrificed the runners to 2nd and 3rd but it would not matter. Hunter Pence followed with a home run to left into the wind….it was Pence’s first long ball since July 17th. Biggio followed with a single and Marshall walked Lance Berkman to end his day. Marshall threw 84 pitches, 45 were for strikes. Michael Wuertz came in to face Carlos Lee but Henry Blanco threw out Biggio at 3rd to end the inning.

Wuertz walked Brad Ausmus to start the 6th inning (the first of two walks on the day for Ausmus), Ausmus stole 2nd with Rodriguez at the plate (Yes, the catcher stole 2nd). Hunter Pence followed with a 2-run home run to left, his first multi-home run game of his career.

Kerry Wood pitched two impressive scoreless innings. Kid K did not surrender a hit but walked 1 and struck out 2. Scott Eyre pitched a perfect 9th, with 2 strikeouts.

The only runs on the day for the Cubs came in the 8th with 2 outs. Aramis Ramirez and Craig Monroe singled. Daryle Ward came through with his 8th pinch hit of the year….a single to center to score Ramirez. Cliff Floyd popped out with two on to end the inning.

As the old, over-used cliche goes, pitching and defense wins ballgames, but the lack of production from the Cubs’ offense is more than concerning. Their offensive struggles are having an effect on the pitching staff. A team that was expected to mash the ball all season and have to out score their opponents because of a weak pitching staff, has been anything but. The lack of home runs aside, the entire team is not driving the ball. Derrek Lee has 4 extra base hits in his last 21 games and has not hit a double since August 18th. Alfonso Soriano’s last home run at Wrigley before last night was July 18th and the last time the Cubs’ offense hit a home run against a lefty before Thursday was July 30th. Ryan Theriot is 2-for-his-last-18 and Piniella said Ronny Cedeno will start a few upcoming games to give Theriot a break.

It is difficult to be critical about a team that is in first place, no matter how weak the division may be. Lou Piniella is getting the job done, they are winning games but the entire team is just a little off, hopefully the new month will bring different results….and a title.

Jason Marquis is scheduled to start on Saturday against Troy Patton. The rookie southpaw will be making his second career big league start.

Quote of the Day

"Now there's three things you can do in a baseball game: You can win or you can lose or it can rain." - Casey StengelĀ 

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