Game Eighty-Seven: Cubs (43-43) vs. Nationals (26-61)
Game Time – 6:05pm C.T.
Coverage – TV: Comcast SportsNet – Radio: 720 WGN, XM Radio Channel 184
Location – Nationals Park, Washington D.C.
Rich Harden (5-6, 5.47/1.54) vs. John Lannan (6-6, 3.70/1.39)
Updated 4:09pm C.T. – The Cubs Sign B.J. Ryan to a Minor League Deal
According to a report from Bruce Levine moments ago on ESPN 1000, the Cubs signed B.J. Ryan to a minor league contract. Ryan will report to Mesa to begin rehab then when possible will join the Cubs’ minor league system in hopes of returning to the big league level.
After a much-needed break the Cubs will resume play in the Nation’s Capital tonight against the Washington Nationals just 3 1/2 games back of the division leading Cardinals. Tonight begins a seven-game road trip that concludes on Wednesday against the Phillies. The Cubs must improve on the road and it all starts with this series.
While many will point to the Nationals record and say they are the worst team in baseball … that is not an accurate statement. The Nationals are not a good team but their problem is their pitching staff and not the offense. The Nats will be looking to prove a point this weekend under new-interim manager Jim Riggleman, who replaced Manny Acta during the break. If the Cubs do not swing the bats and pitch the way they are capable, the former Cubs’ skipper could have a very good start to his managerial career in the District of Columbia.
The Cubs will face two lefties to start the series, John Lannan tonight and Scott Olsen on Friday, which should mean Reed Johnson will hit at the top of Lou Piniella’s lineup … at least for the next two days. Johnson has not played much since returning from the DL and he could be key to the first two games of the series.
Derrek Lee started the second game of the doubleheader last Sunday after leaving Saturday’s game with neck spasms. Keeping Lee healthy and productive in the second half will go a long way towards helping the Cubs reach their goal.
A very familiar face will be in the Nationals’ lineup tonight. Adam Dunn feasted on Cubs’ pitching while he wore a Reds’ uniform and always seemed to play his better games against the Cubs. In 109 career games against Chicago, he has hit 38 home runs (301 for his career) and put together a .260/.398/.614/1.012 line facing Cubs pitching.
While the offense must start their season tonight, it all begins with Rich Harden … and one win at a time. In order for the Cubs to have a better second half, it will require Rich Harden to pitch like he did when he came over from the A’s last season. Harden has put together one good start (June 29 in Pittsburgh) in his last four outings … and was shelled in his last two starts at Wrigley.
Harden has said that he prefers pitching at night since being traded to the Cubs, and the numbers back up his preference. Harden is 4-1 in five night starts this season with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP while opponents have hit just .237 against him. He has performed much better on the road (3-1 in five starts with a 2.59 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP, opponents hitting .235) than at Wrigley (2-5 in nine starts with a 7.59 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP, opponents hitting a robust .298 against him). The Cubs need a positive start to the second half and Rich Harden needs to re-start his season.
Harden is coming off a loss to the Cardinals and his last two starts (Brewers and Cardinals) were two of his worst this year … 0-2 with a 14.14 ERA and a 2.86 WHIP with an opponents batting average of .441.
One of Harden’s better games last year came against the Nationals … in his only career start versus the Nationals/Expos organization. Harden held the Nationals to one run on two hits without a walk and 11 strikeouts on August 24 at Wrigley (1.29 ERA and a 0.29 WHIP).
- Ronnie Belliard – 1-for-7
- Adam Dunn – 0-for-2 with a walk
- Cristian Guzman – 0-for-6 with a walk
- Willie Harris – 0-for-8 with a walk
- Austin Kearns – 1-for-2 with a home run
- Nyjer Morgan – 3-for-4
- Josh Willingham – 0-for-1 with a walk
- Ryan Zimmerman – 0-for-3
The Cubs’ offense will get their third look at young John Lannan tonight. Lannan is one, if not the biggest, bright spots on the Nationals roster … and could arguably be one of the best young southpaws in the league. Lannan has six wins for a team that posted only 26 in the first half.
The Cubs must be patient against Lannan tonight and make him work. There should be opportunities to score but if they are not patient early on he could get into a groove like he did against the Yankees during Interleague play. Lannan has walked 39 batters and given up 117 hits in 112 innings pitched to go along with 50 strikeouts. The key will be not to swing early and often and make him elevate his pitches like he does on the road.
Lannan is very, very good at Nationals Park (3-0 in nine starts with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP). Of the 12 home runs he has served up this season, only two have come on his home field.
Lannan is coming off his second worst outing of the year (May 25 in New York against the Mets, five runs on eight hits in five innings; April 28 in Philadelphia, six runs, three season, on nine his in five innings). The Astros scored five runs on 11 hits (a season-high) with a walk and two strikeouts. In his last two starts before the break, Lannan posted a 1-1 record with a 5.54 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP … opponents hit .377.
The Cubs struggled with John Lannan the first time they faced him last April 27 (no runs on four hits in seven innings with four walks and three strikeouts) then hit him pretty hard at Wrigley on August 22 (five runs on seven hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings). In his two career starts against the Cubs, Lannan is a perfect 2-0.
- Jeff Baker – 1-for-3
- Kosuke Fukudome – 1-for-4 with a double
- Reed Johnson – 1-for-6 with a walk
- Derrek Lee – 2-for-5 with a home run and a walk
- Aramis Ramirez – 0-for-6
- Alfonso Soriano – 0-for-2 with a walk
- Ryan Theriot – 0-for-5 with a walk
Let’s Talk Cubs Baseball….