A rivalry reborn, returning pitchers and a tough decision in Cubs camp

Well, the Chicago Cubs have just come off of a very impressive home stand where they faced the San Diego Padres and the Houston Astros. Due to the rain out of Friday’s series opener with the Astros, they finished with a record of 4-1. Not too shabby if you ask me, any time you can win four out of five games, you are going to have a very successful season. If they keep this up, they will be playing into October. To think, they accomplished this feat without all star’s Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez.

Sadly, they did lose a game on this home stand, which was the last game to be played on their current stay. Rich Harden, who started for the Cubs on Sunday, had a good game, but sadly he had one bad inning, where he allowed four runs to score. If Harden would not have thrown the one bad inning, we would likely be talking about a perfect record for the current stretch of games at home. That, however, didn’t happen. On the plus side of his start though, he lasted through the sixth inning once again this year. With most pitchers, that would not really be a big deal; with Harden though, that is a great accomplishment for a pitcher who has suffered through many different injury problems that have limited his innings and starts in his big league career. Let’s see if he is able to keep this up, because we could use lengthy starts from him throughout the season.

While Harden was the losing pitcher on the day, part of the loss should fall on Jose Ascanio who came in for relief immediately following Harden’s exit from the game. Ascanio started off poorly in his two innings of work, allowing two runs to score; he would eventually settle down and shut the door in his final inning plus of work. Those two runs would prove to be the difference as the Cub’s had their rally fall short in the ninth, leaving them on the wrong end of a 6-5 decision.

Another Brightside to come during these past few games at home, is the arrival of our offense, more specifically Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto and Milton Bradley. All three players are starting to really swing the bat well lately. Bradley is enjoying an actual hitting streak, and is closing in on the 10 game mark. In Sunday’s loss, Lee went 4 for 5 including a homerun, and Soto’s bat has also appeared to wake up lately. While all of their batting averages are still hovering around the .200 mark, they are all starting to make really good contact on the ball. That can only mean good things for the Cubs for the rest of the season.

Along with the three power bats in the lineup, another name is starting to find his way into the starting lineup more is Bobby Scales. While his time with the big league club may be limited, he is making the most of his chances and putting on a great show. In fact, he is playing so well that he may wind up earning a full time job if things don’t change quickly. He could be playing his way right into a starting job at second base if Mike Fontenot does not start to hit again. While Fontenot started off the season on fire, he has cooled off greatly. One reason may be that he is not use to being a full time starter, and his time is starting to catch up to him. Perhaps Fontenot is not meant to be a starter, or maybe we do not have enough of a sample size on his starting career to get a good idea of what he can do. One thing we do know is that that Cubs Manager Lou Piniella is starting to like what he is seeing out of Scales, and we all know that Piniella can sour on a player very easily.

Starting tonight, the Cubs travel to St. Louis for a three game set with the Cardinals, who won the series two games to one in our last trip into their ball park. At the moment, the Cubs have a one game lead on the redbirds, and while the season is still only in late May, you could say this is a big series. At the end of the series, the Cubs could be two games behind the Cardinals, or up four. That is a big swing. One player who is coming back for the Cardinals this series is Christ Carpenter. He has been out for a few weeks after injuring himself in an at bat. One thing I find curious about his return though, is that he did not make a rehab start to insure he is fully healthy. This could be a great plus for the Cubs if you ask me, and if you are reading this you kind of are. He may be rusty, which would give the Cubs the upper hand in this matchup. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the Cubs can easily handle Carpenter. I would never say that about the Cubs against any pitcher. I am just saying that with him not going on a rehab outing, we may have the upper hand.

Speaking of pitchers making a return, Zambrano will be making his in San Deigo at the end of the week. While he had a very shaky rehab outing, you don’t really pay attention to numbers in rehab starts. The main focus is getting through the outing in one piece. With him all but scheduled to start on Friday, I would say that he is ready to go. With his return, Piniella has an interesting problem on his hand. Which of his two starting pitchers will go into the bullpen, and who will remain in the rotation? Both Randy Wells and Sean Marshall have pitched well in the starting rotation, and neither really deserves a demotion to the bullpen. But one must go. If Wells gets the nod to stay in the rotation, then Neal Cotts will likely be sent packing, unless Piniella decides to have two lefties in the bullpen. If that is the case, David Patton will be shown the door, just like he will be if Marshall stays in the rotation. The odds are against Patton, especially with Cotts having a solid inning of work in Sunday’s loss.

That about wraps up my thoughts for the day, so I hope you enjoyed your time reading. Sit back and enjoy this series against the Cardinals, because despite how much of a rival the Milwaukee Brewers have become, the Cardinals are still our biggest rival. Just because we are not chasing them for first place at the moment, doesn’t change that fact. I will talk to you all again soon.

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