A Look Back at 2007 – Struggles Out of the Gate

With 2007 coming to a close, the CCO will take one final look back at last the Championship season over the next several days. What a year it was. After a horrible start, Lou Piniella’s crew supplied the Faithful with a daily dose of drama for an entire month. Piniella and Jim Hendry made one roster move after the other, trying to create chemistry and a winning attitude. Once they did, the Cubs played some of the best ball in the league for the final four months of the season.

Lou Piniella said 2007 was just the beginning….well here is how it started. April and May – Stagger or Swagger

Cubs Record in April – 10-14tied for 4th place in the Central Division – 5 1/2 games back of the Brewers

The 2007 season did not get off to the start that the Faithful were anticipating. Lou Piniella’s crew struggled from the first pitch in Cincinnati on Opening Day throughout the season’s first two months….and the little announcement that was made concerning the team’s future ownership did not help. The decision by the Tribune Company to make the anticipated announcement on Opening Day was ill planned and was bad timing for the Cubs after John McDonough had promised the Faithful a winning season in 2007.

Not only did the announcement put a huge question mark on who would eventually own the Cubs but it put Carlos Zambrano’s future with the team in question as well….a dark cloud that would effect Zambrano’s performance the entire season.

The Cubs struggled with chemistry and the bullpen struggled closing out games. Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre got off to slow starts, Lou Piniella chastised Ryan Dempster on the mound and Neal Cotts was eventually banished to Triple-A where he would end up spending the entire season.

- Lou Piniella’s first win as a Cubs ManagerApril 4, 2007 – A Sweet Debut

After dropping the first game of the season 5-1 to the Reds, the Cubs bounced back behind Ted Lilly and beat Bronson Arroyo and the Reds 4-1. Ted Lilly won his first game as a Cub in the process and drove in a run on a botched bunt attempt that fell between David Ross and Arroyo. Alfonso Soriano hit his first double as a Cub. Cesar Izturis recorded the first RBI for the Cubs of the new season. Lilly threw 7 strong innings, struck out 9, walked 1 and surrendered just 3 hits.

- Rich Hill’s Dominating Performance against the BrewersApril 6, 2007 – Dominating the Hill

Rich Hill made his 2007 debut on a Friday night at Miller Park and shutdown the Brewers’ high-powered offense. Hill gave up just a run on 1 hit….a solo home run by Corey Hart. The Cubs offense scored 6 runs in the 1st inning off of Dave Bush and they took the first game of the season series from the Brewers 9-3. Mark DeRosa hit his second home run of the year and Ronny Cedeno added a pinch-hit home run. Alfonso Soriano made several fine defensive plays in centerfield. Angel Guzman pitched the final 2 innings and gave up 2 runs on 3 hits.

Rich Hill quieted several critics with his first outing of the year. Hill struck out 6 and did not walk a batter, he finished his first April in the big leagues with a 3-1 record with a 1.77 ERA in 5 starts.

- Felix Pie’s Major League Debut against the PadresApril 17, 2007 – Immediate Impact

The Cubs lost the 13th game of 2007 in 14 innings to the Padres, 4-3, but the Faithful got their first look at Felix Pie. Pie was just 1-for-6 in his debut, but the one hit was a double off of Greg Maddux that drove in Henry Blanco. Pie shined in the field and recorded the Cubs first outfield assist of the season. In the 10th inning, Pie threw out Russell Branyan at the plate with one of the better throws, at the time, from a Cubs’ outfielder in years. Wade Miller struggled, but the bullpen threw 8 innings of shutout ball in relief until Will Ohman took the mound in the 14th inning and gave up doubles to Khalil Greene and Geoff Blum that ended up being the difference in the game.

The Faithful saw the Cubs’ future in centerfield on that Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley.

Lou Piniella talked about creating a swagger on the North Side, but by the end of the first month the question became….is this Swagger or Stagger?

Cubs Record in May – 12-15season record end of May – 22-29 – tied for 3rd place in the Central Division – 6 1/2 games back of the Brewers

May started out on a good note but quickly went south as the Cubs fell further behind the division leading Brewers. Rumors began to circulate that Lou Piniella was not getting along with his new team and his “old school ways” did not relate to today’s ballplayer. Piniella started discussing ways to shakeup his pitching staff and there was talk of Ryan Dempster returning to the starting rotation and Angel Guzman replacing him as the team’s closer. The bullpen was horrible in May, especially in Philadelphia and New York. The Cubs lost games in the late innings in San Diego and Los Angeles as well.

The month closed on what appeared to be the low point of the season….the Marlins swept a 3-game series at Wrigley. At the end of May, the Cubs appeared to be well on their way to another 90-plus-loss season, despite all of the money spent and the promises made during the off-season.

- Jason Marquis’ Two Dominating Performances against the Pirates in the same weekMay 2, 2007 – A Good Start and May 9, 2007 – Coming Up Big

Jim Hendry took a lot of heat in the press before the season for signing Jason Marquis to a 3-year, $21 million dollar contract. While Marquis did not finish the season strong, his outings in April and May kept the Cubs from falling further behind the Brewers. Marquis was 3-1 in 5 starts in April with a 2.35 ERA and was 2-1 in 6 starts in May with a 3.38 ERA….5-2 in the first two months with a 2.93 ERA.

The Cubs completed the second game of a 3-game series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh on May 2nd, after a comeback and rain suspended the game from the night before for 16 hours. The Cubs won the suspended game on Wednesday morning 8-6 and in the process Rocky Cherry picked up his first big league win. Alfonso Soriano hit his first home run as a Cub, a month into the season.

Jason Marquis dominated the second game of the “double header“. Marquis threw 8 strong innings, allowed 4 hits, struck out 5 and did not walk a single batter. Marquis’ only mistake was a home run by Ryan Doumit in the 2nd inning. Marquis earned his 4th victory of the year, and the Cubs beat Ian Snell and the Pirates, 7-1. Alfonso Soriano homered for the second consecutive game. Ryan Theriot started pushing Cesar Izturis out of the starting spot with a 3-RBI game.

On May 9th, Jason Marquis had his best outing of the year with a complete game shutout of the Pirates. Marquis retired the first 16 batters he faced and allowed just 3 hits in his second career complete game shutout. Alfonso Soriano led off the bottom of the 1st with a solo home run off of Tom Gorzelanny. Soriano hit Gorzelanny’s second pitch over the left field wall, his first as a Cub at Wrigley Field. Gorzelanny dominated the Cubs and did not allow another run, but Marquis out dueled the talented southpaw.

The contest lasted just 2 hours and 6 minutes. Marquis struck out 5 and did not walk a batter for his second consecutive outing. The Cubs won the game 1-0 behind Marquis’ masterpiece and Soriano’s longball.

- Carlos Zambrano’s First Dominating Outing of the YearMay 15, 2007 – Waiting to Z

Carlos Zambrano was 3-3 with an inflated ERA before he took the mound in Shea Stadium. Zambrano had been inconsistent at best and rumors were flying that Big Z and Lou Piniella were not on the best terms. Zambrano had made it through the 7th inning only twice in his first 8 starts, but that would all change in New York.

Zambrano dominated the high-powered Mets offense and won the only game of the 4-game series. Zambrano retired the Mets in order on just 7 pitches in the 1st inning, found a rhythm and handed John Maine his first defeat of the year. Zambrano gave up a run on 6 hits, struck out 3 and walked 3. Most importantly he proved there was nothing wrong with his arm and gave Lou Piniella a preview of what would come in July.

The Cubs blew out the Mets 10-1 behind a grand slam by Aramis Ramirez, big nights from Ryan Theriot (1-3, 3 walks, 2 runs scored) and Daryle Ward subbing for Derrek Lee. Mike Fontenot recorded his first big league hit, a double in the 8th and scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Barrett.

- Cubs Take Two of Three from the White Sox at Wrigley FieldMay 18, 2007 – Bouncing Back with a ComebackMay 19, 2007 – A Big Swing and May 20, 2007 – Can’t Close ‘Em Out

The annual Crosstown Classic took centerstage on May 18th at the Friendly Confines. The Cubs entered the series with a 18-21 record while the Sox were 20-17….after this weekend the two teams would go in opposite directions.

Ted Lilly out pitched Mark Buehrle in the series opener. The Cubs managed just 1 run on 5 hits off of Buehrle until Henry Blanco pinch hit for Ted Lilly in the 7th and drew a 2-out walk. Ryan Theriot followed with a single off of Buehrle, chased him from the game and Angel Pagan tripled off of Mike MacDougal to tie the game. Pagan scored the go ahead run on a passed ball by Toby Hall. The Cubs scored 3 in the 7th with 2 outs and tacked on 2 more in the 8th….the Cubs won game one of the series, 6-3.

Game two was just a little more dramatic. The Cubs jumped out to an early lead thanks to a 2-run homer by Jason Marquis but ended up falling behind and trailed 6-5 going into the 8th inning. Ryan Theriot led off the frame with a triple and tied the game on a single by Alfonso Soriano. Aramis Ramirez tripled home Soriano, Daryle Ward was intentionally walked and Michael Barrett reached on a shot back up the middle that ricocheted off of David Aardsma. With the bases loaded, Ozzie Guillen brought in lefty Boone Logan to face Jacque Jones. Lou Piniella went to his bench for the injured Derrek Lee. Logan quickly fell behind and on a 3-1 pitch, Lee hit the ball into the bleachers in right center to cap the 6-run 8th inning. Wrigley erupted as the Cubs beat the Sox, 11-6.

Game three was a very cold Sunday afternoon at Wrigley. Nick Masset, another unknown pitcher, beat Carlos Zambrano , 10-6. A.J. Pierzynski hit a grand slam off of Neal Cotts in the 7th that was the difference in the game. Carlos Zambrano pitched from behind most of the afternoon and slipped back to 4-4 on the year as the Cubs failed to reach the .500 mark before a long trip out west.

- Swept by the Marlins in a 3-game Series at WrigleyMay 30, 2007 – Shutout and Swept….A New Season Low?

Earlier in the day, Derrek Lee called a players only meeting that failed to work. The Cubs were embarrassed by the Marlins and played one of their worst games of the season. Piniella had stated after their loss the day before that was his team’s worst of the year, little did he know. The Cubs were shutout by the Marlins 9-0 and fell to a season low 7 games under .500. The Cubs offense managed just 5 singles while the Marlins hit 4 home runs.

The season looked over at the end of May but despite losing with Jim and Lou, the Cubs had not hit rock bottom….just yet.