Game One Hundred Thirty-Nine: Cubs (85-53) vs. Astros (72-66)
Game Time – 7:05pm C.T.
Coverage – TV: WGN – Radio: 720 WGN, XM Radio Channel 185
Location – Wrigley Field, Chicago
Carlos Zambrano (13-5, 3.53/1.30) vs. Brandon Backe (9-12, 5.42/1.58)
The Chicago Cubs find themselves entering play tonight in arguably the first big game of the final month of the season. The Cubs are not just in need of a win, but for Carlos Zambrano to break out of his slump from last month. Zambrano’s health is a major concern for the Cubs and a solid outing tonight could go along way at answering a few of the questions surrounding their ace. While Zambrano’s offense has been very helpful this season, Big Z must concentrate on pitching. The offense must relax and give Z a little early run support in order to keep him focused on his ‘day job‘.
Lou Piniella’s crew has two games remaining on a stretch of 16 in a row without a day off that began back on August 19th. They have won 9 of the first 14 and a win tonight would give them a chance to keep their unbeaten series streak alive….the Cubs are 9-0-2 in the last 11 series dating back to July 24th. Despite losing the last three in a row, the Cubs have a chance to win the series against the Astros and even up the season series versus Houston at 7-7….the Cubs are 4-3 against the Astros at Wrigley and 2-4 at Minute Maid this year.
According to a report in the Daily Herald, Lou Piniella talked about possible changes to the lineup with his coaches following the 3-0 loss on Monday. Bruce Miles reported that “Kosuke Fukudome’s slump is getting to Lou” and Miles mentioned the possibility of Micah Hoffpauir giving the slumping Derrek Lee a day off…. Carlos Zambrano is in need of a good outing tonight against the Astros. A win would be a plus and his 14th of the season but his performance is more important than him posting a victory. The Cubs must have two goals tonight….one win the game and the other to receive at least a quality start from their ace with an improved arm angle and velocity.
Z blamed his struggles in August on the month itself. After going 0-4 in 5 starts with a 7.06 ERA and a 1.88 WHIP a season ago, Zambrano was 1-1 in 5 games last month with a 7.43 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP. Zambrano silenced a lot of the concerns last year when he returned to form and posted a 4-2 record in 6 starts in September with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Big Z must repeat that performance this month if the Cubs are going to hold off the Brewers and win the Central Division crown.
Zambrano’s struggles have raised the question about which pitcher Lou Piniella would use to start a post-season series if the Cubs do make the playoffs. Without a doubt Zambrano is the number one pitcher on the Cubs’ staff, it is up to him to prove it over the next 4 weeks. As Aramis Ramirez pointed out a few months back, the Cubs go as Zambrano goes….and it must start tonight with a Z-like performance.
Zambrano is coming off a no decision against the Pirates in his last outing. He gave up 6 runs, all earned, on 8 hits in 4 1/3 innings, the second time in 4 starts that Z had failed to complete 5 innings. The only positive concerning Zambrano last month, other than the offense he gave his team, is that the Cubs are 4-1 in his last 5 starts and 8-2 since he came off the DL on July 4th in St. Louis.
Zambrano is 1-1 in 2 starts this season versus the Astros with a 4.05 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. The Astros beat him in Houston on July 19th and scored 4 runs on 6 hits in 6 1/3 innings. Zambrano walked a season-high 6 batters and struck out 3. Back on April 6th at Wrigley, Zambrano beat the Carlos Lee-led Astros 3-2 and allowed 2 runs on 7 hits in 7 innings with 7 strikeouts and no walks. Zambrano must throw strikes tonight and not repeat the walk parade from the first weekend after the All-Star break. No walks would equal a low pitch count and more innings for the Cubs’ ace.
Zambrano is 11-7 in 24 career games, 22 starts, versus the Astros with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP.
- Brandon Backe – 1-for-2 with a double
- Lance Berkman – 9-for-57 with 4 home runs and 14 walks
- Geoff Blum – 5-for-22 with a double
- Darin Erstad – 2-for-10
- Mark Loretta – 3-for-12 with a double
- Hunter Pence – 2-for-12 with a double
- Miguel Tejada – 3-for-6 with a home run
- Ty Wigginton – 0-for-4
The Cubs will try to beat Brandon Backe for the third time this season tonight. Backe is 0-2 in 3 starts against the Cubs this year with a 9.56 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP. The Cubs have shown a lot of patience at the plate against Backe and must continue that trend tonight. The Cubs have walked 9 times in the 16 innings they have faced Backe this year.
Backe is coming off a rough month. He posted a 3-2 record in 6 games with a 7.82 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP while teams hit a robust .301 against him. Backe struggled in two starts, one against the Cubs and the other against the Diamondbacks in which he gave up 11 earned runs in each start.
The Cubs will have their chances tonight against Backe and must not leave runners left on base and in scoring position. Early runs would not only give the Cubs a little breathing room and relax the entire team but would allow their ace to concentrate on just pitching.
- Henry Blanco – 1-for-3
- Mark DeRosa – 4-for-11 with a double and 2 home runs
- Jim Edmonds – 5-for-16 with a double and 5 walks
- Mike Fontenot – 2-for-3 with a home run
- Kosuke Fukudome – 3-for-8 with 2 doubles
- Reed Johnson – 1-for-5 with a home run
- Derrek Lee – 4-for-20 with 2 doubles
- Aramis Ramirez – 8-for-21 with a home run
- Alfonso Soriano – 5-for-23 with 2 doubles and 2 home runs
- Geovany Soto – 0-for-3
- Ryan Theriot – 3-for-11
- Carlos Zambrano – 0-for-2
Let’s Talk Cubs Baseball…..