Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

September 2008 Archives

I was part of a two-bus caravan full of Cubs fans on Saturday heading to Milwaukee, and it was an interesting day.

I don't believe this is the series the Cubs wanted heading into action Sunday, but it's still certainly one they should win.

Aces wild

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Except for the sudden unreliability of the guy who's supposed to be the Cubs' ace, the Cubs' pitching rotation entering the playoffs looks a lot more imposing than a year ago and offers a lot of arguments for arranging the four-man crew in almost any order. Which raises the question: Which order is best?

Looks like ESPN analyst and former Mets GM Steve Phillips wasn't the only one who didn't think Lou Piniella should have let Carlos Zambrano finish that no-hitter on Sept. 14.

Photos: Cubs clinch division

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NL Central Watch: Sept. 18

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Here's a quick glance at what's happening around the National League Central.

The Brewers' fading chances took a big hit in Chicago on Wednesday night when the news their fans have been bracing for all season finally surfaced. Ace Ben Sheets has been dealing with a sore elbow for some time now and it appears his season is over after an abbreviated start against the Cubs.

Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum's first official move was juggling his rotation. He moved right-hander Dave Bush into lefty Manny Parra's spot to ease the load on Parra. In the process, he put Bush in a matchup against the Cubs that would seem to spell doom. Bush is 1-7 with a 5.16 ERA in 10 career starts against the Cubs, including 0-2 and 8.53 in two outings this season.

As the season winds down, the Cardinals are finally looking like the subpar team they were supposed to be in 2008, losing their sixth consecutive game, their longest losing streak of the season. The loss officially elminated them from the Central race and cast doubts about their wild-card chances. Now they face the real prospect of being at Wrigley Field when the Cubs clinch the division title this weekend. ''You see where we would be if we'd just played .500 the last couple weeks, it's unbelievable,'' center fielder Skip Schumaker said.

Is this Santo's year?

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Ron Santo was named one of 10 finalists for the Hall of Fame, and the revamped voting process makes our Cubs reporter Gordon Wittenmyer think this could be Santo's year.

Big Z fires no-hitter!

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This unbelievable season the Cubs are fashioning took another special turn as Carlos Zambrano fired the team's first no-hitter since 1972.

NL Central Watch: Sept. 12

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Talking to Cubs manager Lou Piniella before their 3-2 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday night, he feels blessed that his team's worst stretch of the season really hasn't cost them anything in the standings.

''You look at our situation and you say, 'Boy, if we had just played well,' '' Piniella said. ''What's happened basically is that we have let a couple of teams back on the peripheral. But the main team that is chasing us, Milwaukee, has struggled, too. But if we play really good baseball here over the next seven days, and we'll get ourselves in really, really good shape.''

These days, the Brewers are spending as much time llooking over their shoulders than straight ahead at the Cubs. Now, outfielder Gabe Kapler -- the Brewers' best pinch-hitting option off the bench with a .323 average -- appears to be lost for the season.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes an honest look at the Cardinals. And Bernie makes an interesting point: After losing two of three to the Cubs at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals are 78-68 after 146 games ... but are 10 games out of first place, and 4.5 games out of the wild card. In 2006, before they'd go on to win the World Series, the Cardinals were also 78-68 after 146 games ... and with that record they led the NL Central by 5.5 games.

Dismissed by the Yankees thanks to a 5.71 ERA, former Cub LaTroy Hawkins has been unhittable with the red-hot Astros.

Ike wins, Cubs coming home

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Gordon Wittenmyer reports the Cubs are expected to fly home after tonight's game in St. Louis.

NL Central Watch: Sept. 10

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Here's a quick glance at what's happening around the National League Central.

It's one thing when your offense struggles. It's another when it struggles against the Reds' pitching staff, one of the worst in the majors. This is the current state of the Brewers. Their 5-4 loss to the Reds was the Brewers' third in a row and seventh in nine games on the homestand with one left before starting a 10-game trip that probably will make or break their season, points out Tom Haudricourt. The Brewers are hoping CC Sabathia can give them a lift today against the Reds. The left-hander is making his 13th start for the Brewers and is seeking his 10th victory with the club. A bone spur in David Riske's right elbow likely explains the relievers' recent struggles.

Bum elbow and all, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols is putting the finishing touches on an MVP season. Consider this: Pujols has three home runs in his last three games and is hitting .396 since July 26. He has nine RBI this month and has multiple RBI in nine of his last 16 games. And in this same story, he downplays the notion he is headed for offseason surgery on his elbow.

The red-hot Astros aren't talking playoffs yet, despite winning 12 of their last 13 games.

About time Lou erupts

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Now that's the Lou Piniella I know. For most of two seasons in Chicago, the Cubs manager has held his tongue more often than showing the more volatile side of his emotions, but the old Cincinnati-Seattle Lou finally came out tonight in a two-minute rant/message aimed at the dull play of a team that has pissed away almost one-third of September.

NL Central Watch: Sept. 9

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Here's a quick glance at what's happening around the National League Central.

All those Cubs fans reaching for the panic button, stop. Yes, things are bad, but they could be worse. You could be a Brewers fan. For all of the Cubs' recent struggles, they have been minimized thanks to another late-season collapse by the Brewers. Meanwhile, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun insists his slump has nothing to do with his tender ribs. And though Mike Cameron isn't completely healthy, he is back in the Brewers' lineup.

During one of his best seasons at the plate, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols says he is thinking seriously about undergoing offseason surgery on his ailing right elbow. If he undergoes the procedure, it could make him unavailable to start the 2009 season on time.

Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle points out how the Astros keep winning even though Carlos Lee is out, Lance Berkman has cooled off and Ty Wigginton is hurting. In discussing the wild card, Geoff Blum sums up the Astros' mind-set these days: ''Colorado did it last year. Why can't we?''

Geovany Soto and Alexei Ramirez won Rookie of the Month awards for August.

Big day for Gaudin, Cubs

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The health concerns in the starting rotation -- in particular the status of Carlos Zambrano's irritated shoulder -- have rightfully drawn the most headlines and attention the past week or two.

But the bruised back of Chad Gaudin has quietly turned into the most baffling health concern on the pitching staff. And considering the way he helped raise the level of the entire bullpen for close to six weeks after being acquired in that trade in early July, his continued loss is creating a substantial, if overshadowed, gap on the staff.

Lou feeling the heat?

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Lou Piniella blew off the media for the first time this season when he didn't show up for the postgame news conference.

Cubs are lucky - for now

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With St. Louis, Houston, Milwaukee and the Mets filling out the rest of the Cubs' schedule, it would seem the time to panic for Cubs Nation is now after one of their worst losses of the season and their 7th in their last 8. Except that no team seems to want to win the NL Central.

Marquis the man

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It would be easy with all the home runs the Cubs hit to break out of their slump tonight to overlook the job Jason Marquis did, but considering the shape the Cubs' rotation is in right now, there might not have been a more important performance in breaking the losing streak.

Don't celebrate yet

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So an MRI showed Carlos Zambrano has rotator cuff tendinitis , which means no surgery. That's good news, but hold off on the celebration.

Cubs still have Mar-key

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Whatever the final outcome of Carlos Zambrano's arm checkup and comeback trail, the Cubs can't lose down the stretch this year for one reason ...

NL Central Watch: Sept. 3

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Here's a quick glance at what's happening around the National League Central.

Whenever Brewers ace Ben Sheets has even the slightest injury, alarms sound in Milwaukee. He left his last start Monday after five innings, complaining of a groin strain. Though Sheets was still feeling some tightness Tuesday, he said he expects to make his next scheduled start Saturday against the San Diego Padres. You can bet Brewers fans will be watching that outing closely. He's already at 179 innings, the most Sheets has pitched since a career-high 237 in 2004. Meanwhile, right-hander Yovani Gallardo threw a 50-pitch simulated game Tuesday and is recovering quicker than expected from surgery to repair a torn ACL. Getting Gallardo back would be a huge boost for the Brewers, though they realize his arm likely will only be able to handle relief duty.

Adam Wainwright gave the Cardinals the boost they have needed from the rotation. Wainwright has allowed four earned runs and 16 hits in 17 1/3 innings during his three starts since coming off the disabled list. In this same game story, we see that former rotation ace Chris Carpenter made first relief appearance since Oct. 1, 2000, pitching a scoreless seventh inning against the Diamondbacks. Meanwhile, the Cards' pitching plans for next season might have already take a hit now that promising left-hander Jaime Garcia is weighing ligament replacement surgery.

Lost amid all the concern at Wrigley Field over Carlos Zambrano's latest arm woes was the fact the Astros stayed red-hit, winning their seventh consecutive game. They have 73 victories -- matching their win total for all of last season -- and might have saved manager Cecil Cooper's job.

Z's arm the latest curse?

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Did anybody believe it wasn't a big deal when Carlos Zambrano was scratched from Sunday's game?

Soriano has to pay attention

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Two outs and no one on in the top of the ninth, and Alfonso Soriano either pulls a brain cramp or just doesn't feel like hustling.

Snappy Lou creates intrigue

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Probably a result of his team's anemic hitting the past few days, along with the monthlong slump of tonight's starting pitcher, Piniella was short and a not-exactly-sweet Lou during his pregame media session -- to the the degree of creating unnecessary intrigue over the recent decision to skip Rich Harden in the rotation.

The Z Factor

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How important is Carlos Zambrano to this Cubs team this year? We're about to find out.

If his August problems and ``dead arm'' or ``tired arm'' or ``not-sore arm'' continue into his first start of September Tuesday after being scratched from his start Sunday, it's going to be hard for the team to hide behind euphemisms when explaining what's wrong with the crowned ace.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2008 is the previous archive.

October 2008 is the next archive.

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