Cubs can be game-changers in N.L. West

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Cubs can be game-changers in N.L. West

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
Updated 11:01 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

When the Cubs dealt Ted Lilly to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they didnt shift the balance of power in the National League West. They can do that now, aligning their rotation to make sure that the divisions frontrunners see Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

The Cubs will play the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres two teams separated by a half-game on Wednesday morning seven times in 10 days. Its as close as they will come to impacting a playoff race.

At the July 31 deadline, the Dodgers were five games over .500 and hoping Lilly could be a difference-maker. They began Wednesday at five under and officially eliminated from playoff contention, with a manager on his way out (Joe Torre) and ownership on trial (the McCourts).

With Lilly gone, Randy Wells hoped to move up in the rotation. Nothing has come easy during his second season in the majors, but he is finishing strong. He again stated his case for 2011 with Wednesdays 2-0 victory over the Giants at Wrigley Field.

Were playing some good ball right now, Wells said. Everybodys loose, everybodys having fun. You wish it wasnt too little, too late. You try to build for next year and see what guys got. Everybodys responding pretty well.

On a 64-degree night in front of 37,285 fans, Wells retired 13 straight Giants at one point. He limited them to six hits and struck out six while walking only one. He has found a consistent release point for his sinker and changeup. Between this start and his last one a near complete game in St. Louis hes given up one run in 15 23 innings.

To get the final four outs and finish off the Giants (85-67), Mike Quade brought in closer Carlos Marmol, who notched his 34th save. The manager wanted this game.

Evaluating against the better competition obviously matters. (The Giants have) the best pitching in the National League, Quade said. You know youre going to be in a dogfight in situations like this 1-0, 2-1, 2-0 and execution and playing under those circumstances (is what) youd really like to see in the growth of a ballclub.

The Cubs (69-82) are now 18-8 under Quade, who isnt blind to whats going on. He knows that other candidates will be interviewed, but says that hes focused only on the 11 games remaining this season. Hes already made a positive impression upon the clubhouse with his energy and communication skills.

No doubt if hes back on board, he will be welcome with open arms, catcher Geovany Soto said. Hes been doing a great job. Hes from the system and it shows. Hes in there every pitch and he gets it.

Every pitch, every at-bat, doesnt carry the same weight for the Cubs as it does for the Giants and Padres right now. Its much easier to get rookie relievers acclimated this way. Even Kosuke Fukudome who drilled a line drive into the right-field seats for his 13th home run is getting his timing down.

Instead of playing spoiler, could this form the core of a contending team next year?

Im an optimist, Quade said. I dont see any reason (why not). You see this club play well here at the end (and) if we play this thing out for the next two weeks in good fashion, then Id go home and whoever gets the job next year should feel excited about this club.

Thats just the way I feel and that has no bearing on what happens this winter with (general manager Jim Hendrys) moves or anything else. There are just a lot of guys here that have finished up well.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.

Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

"To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special," Ngoepe said. "There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing."

It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy now," Ngoepe said with a smile. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest."

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "That's baseball."

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.

The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison's career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates' lead to 5-1.

After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.

Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.

Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.

Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

It was just over a week ago when Cubs fans were freaking out about the bullpen's struggles in a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was understandable, given Cubs relievers allowed 11 runs in the course of blowing two late leads to end that three-game sweep at the hand of the Bucs.

But since then, the Cubs bullpen has been fantastic.

In eight games entering Wednesday night's series finale with the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Cubs bullpen is working on a stretch where they've posted a 1.56 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over the last 28.2 innings.

In that span — in which the Cubs are 6 — relievers have allowed six runs (five earned) while striking out 33 batters and surrendering just one homer.

They've been especially stingy over the last three games, allowing just five baserunners in eight shutout innings, including three straight scoreless frames to close out a 1-0 victory Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Wade Davis has been the anchor at the back end of the bullpen the Cubs were hoping he'd be when they traded Jorge Soler for him over the winter. Davis is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities and has not allowed a run in 9.1 innings, allowing just three hits and a pair of walks in the season's first month.

Setting up in front of Davis, Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. have combined to allow one run and three hits in 15.1 innings.

Brian Duensing — who started the year on the disabled list after a back issue sapped his spring training — is still searching for a rhythm and has surrendered six runs and 10 hits in 6.1 innings on the season. Over the last week-and-a-half, the 34-year-old southpaw has allowed more runs (three) than the rest of the Cubs bullpen combined.

Take Duensing's numbers away from that same eight-game stretch and the Cubs bullpen has been even more fantastic — 0.73 ERA and 0.81 WHIP.

Of course, it's still not even May yet, so this stellar stretch is just another small sample size. 

But just like that, the Cubs suddenly have a Top 10 bullpen, tied for the Colorado Rockies for ninth in Major League Baseball with a 3.07 relief ERA.