View From The Bleachers

May 10, 2012

Game 31: Paul Maholm, Stopper?

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 1:45 am

Braves 0 @ Cubs 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Cubs and Braves staged an old fashioned pitcher’s duel Wednesday between Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson.  Neither offense could accomplish much of anything, as the hurlers mowed through the lineups.  In the end it was Bryan LaHair’s sharp grounder past the shortstop that decided the game, and gave the Cubs their second consecutive series victory and closed out a 4-2 homestand.

Here’s some key points that stand out from the game and the homestand:

  • Paul Maholm has really turned his game around since his first two starts of the season.  In his four starts since then–all wins, by the way–he’s been the pitcher many of us hoped he could be.  He’s not dominant or overpowering–it’s more subtle than that.  He simply hasn’t given opposing hitters anything to work with.  Look at the play-by-play from Wednesday’s game and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s all groundouts and pop flys, and on the rare occasion he did let a runner on, he was able to buckle down and get the next batter out.  It’s not that he’s got superhuman talent–he doesn’t.  He’s just über-consistent, and when was the last time you could say that as a positive about a Cub pitcher?
  • One other note about Maholm–all his wins have come after losses for the Cubs.  His first win came at the end of that six-game losing streak in mid-April.  Since then he’s consistently kept the Cubs in position to win, each time after a loss.  Now maybe that’s just the result of following Chris Volstad in the rotation?  Either way, since Maholm got his act together on the mound, the Cubs are 10-7.
  • Bryan LaHair continues to add to his legend.  He recorded the only RBI in Wednesday’s game, with a sharp single that ate up Braves’ shortstop Jack Wilson.  With two outs and David DeJesus on third, LaHair represented the Cubs’ best scoring chance of the day, and he delivered.  Listening to the game in my office, it seemed inevitable that he would get a hit–even Pat and Keith sounded confident that he’d find a way to bring DeJesus home.  Coming into the season, I hoped LaHair would be good, or at least good enough.  I had no idea he’d be this great.
  • The only other legitimate scoring chance the Cubs had came in the fourth inning, when Starlin Castro tripled off the wall in right field.  The ball tailed toward what would be foul territory in any other ballpark, but landed fair before skipping off the wall and back to the ivy past a sliding Jason Heyward.  Castro was rounding second as Heyward got to the ball, and third base coach Pat Listach waved him on to home for the potential inside-the-park homer.  It took two near-perfect throws to get him, and Dan Uggla’s relay to home was actually a bit off the mark in a way that benefited the Braves.  Instead of setting up to make the tag at home, David Ross had to make the catch a couple feet up the baseline, cutting off any potential slide or move that Castro could make to avoid the tag.  It’s never good to be thrown out at the plate, but it follows with the Cubs’ aggressive baserunning approach, and it looked like Castro had a good shot.  If he waits at third maybe LaHair knocks him in like he would later with DeJesus–who knows?
  • And I’m not kidding when I say those were the only two scoring chances–the Cubs won the game with only 26 plate appearances.  The minimum for a win is 25.
  • Just want to say a quick word about our starting pitchers–who thought they would be the strength of the team?  Dempster’s working hard to win himself that next contract.  Matt Garza is Matt Garza.  Paul Maholm is exceeding everyone’s humble expectations.  And even Jeff Samardzija has made the move to starting pirate pitcher without too many bumps.  Only Chris Volstad has been a consistent disappointment, and his problems are usually localized to one bad inning.  Even Randy Wells and Travis Wood have looked serviceable in their limited work.  Nobody, NOBODY saw it coming, but our starting pitchers and the emergence of a (kind of) offensive identity have made this team (dare I say it?) competitive!  I mean, we just took four out of six games against two of the best teams in baseball–who saw that coming?  I did not expect to be this happy with this team… well, ever.
  • One other note about Samardzija–Monday night I finally saw a sign that makes me think maybe he really can be a quality starting pitcher.  No, it wasn’t the seven innings of 1-run baseball, or the seven strikeouts he peppered throughout the night.  It was in the top of the seventh, when he put a fastball between Jason Heyward’s shoulder blades.  Reed Johnson was hit in the bottom of the second, and Samardzija wasn’t content to let it go unpunished.  In fact, hitting Heyward drew warnings for both dugouts, and Braves manager Freddie Gonzalez got an early shower in the bottom of the inning, after the Braves hit DeJesus.  The point is I’m a big fan of pitchers who protect their hitters, and sadly the Cubs haven’t always had guys willing to do that.  If Samardzija is going to be that kind of starter, he might be able to win over one of his biggest critics.  (But I’ll still occasionally link this picture.)
  • That’s probably all the gushing I can muster for now, and certainly more than you want to read.  Here’s a question for you though (mainly so I get to use Joe’s nifty You Make the Call image): In light of the Cubs recent upswing, where would you put the adjusted ceiling for this team?  Are your expectations raised, or do you think the last couple weeks have been a blip?  For me, I think this is a competitive Cubs team, one that could (and maybe should) post a .500-ish record.  That might not put us in position to land the fifth playoff spot, but it would mean we’re playing meaningful games into the last few weeks of the season.  And I’ll take that, bigtime.
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  • Jedi

    Cub hitters only saw 83 pitches…how did we win this game…ONLY 83 PITCHES!

  • chet

    It will be interesting to see what happens when certain players start hitting the skids. When LaHair goes cold, will he bounce back? Or what happens when our starting pitching hits a funk? It will be up to Dale and Co. to pull them up and out of it. That being said, I am gaining some confidence in this bunch of coaches. They have a certain demeanor that I like, very understated but you can tell they are constantly in the game.

  • Cubs Future

    That is so true, but then again most of the hitters have been cold all year. LOL. They are on the right path and seems a few players are stepping up in the minors as Casey Coleman threw a great game last time out and Rusin was decent. I think there are some relievers as well as I thought Maine was good as well with the exception of the loss yesterday. We all know Volstad has been bad, but he still is close to being a 5th starter instead of a minor leaguer. Throw in possible replacements in Wood, Wells and even Rodrigo. Then again you have to be ready for trades which hurts now but helps future. I think they will still muster a .500 record give or take a few games regardless. So for those trades and the draft and the few minor league players that have promise will make the future much brighter, but we all know it will take some time. Cubs are moving in the right direction and when they are ready to spend, they will have the money to do so.

  • Jarred B.

    I think the Cubs can win 79 games. It all depends what they do at the trade deadline or sooner. If they get rid of Dempster(I think they should, His stock is sky high and we casn get some good pieces in return), Garza(They need to keep him),Marmol, Soriono(Eat the contract, they have some good propects in the OF and he’s a waste).

  • Doug S.

    Cubs-Braves game time 2:05
    Take that, Yankees-Red Sox

    Real nice win by the guys. I’m already enjoying this season more than I thought I would.

  • Mark P.

    My expectations have crept up because the pitching has been good (and it appears sustainable). I think we will struggle with offense all year–but who knows, if Campana can get on base and use his speed–we could scrape together some runs. I’ve gone from thinking that these Cubs are easily a 90 loss team to thinking they could win 75-80 games.

  • Evan G

    Coming into the season I expected the Cubs to be a .500 team. Which of course doesn’t mean they win one then lose one, etc. They’ll have some bad stretches, like the beginning of the season, and some good ones, like now. So my expectations haven’t really changed at all. But this recent good stretch sure has been fun to watch.


    I’ll be a believer if they can do this through June. Too much heartbreak has taught me otherwise. But I am glad for this. Likewise, I am holding before apologizing to Samardzidja. The Sasuckzidja label is gone for now though. But I still hate Notre Dame

  • Norm Bothwell

    Same expectations today as from Spring Training.
    It’s funny, two weeks ago we hear people talking about how this team is going to lose 100-110 games, not they are hot we’re talking about losing 20 games fewer.
    It’s baseball, these swings happen all the time.
    The ball beat Castro home by 3 or 4 feet. He should not have been sent home. I’m sorry, but I DON’T like aggressiveness when it comes at the expense of smart baseball.

  • RichBeckman

    What we are seeing now is what I was expecting. I do not expect the playoffs, I do expect fun baseball watching the young guys learning and hustling.

    I notice that the Braves catcher moved forward to take the throw and then was able to swing back to tag Castro. I hope Geo was watching.

  • Dusty Baylor

    If the ball is to the other side of the plate, rather than up the line…He beats the throw. Meh…

  • Doc Raker

    I liked the send, Len and Bob explained it correctly albeit with no enthusiasm at all that the cutoff throw was low and bounced into Ugla, it was very possible Ugla would have trouble making a good relay throw. On the other hand you do have the teams hottest hitter on deck. In a high scoring game I do not send him, in a low scoring game it seemed like a good gamble.

  • Norm Bothwell

    I just can’t agree…the catcher just received the ball in this shot:
    I mean, it’s just not close.

  • Jedi

    Expectations unadjusted…for as poorly as we started, we were bound to have at least one “where did that come from?” stretch.

  • Norm Bothwell

    Holy sh#t, I agree…

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Exactly, Dusty. In fact, I think if the throw had been to the plate, Castro would have had some chance to make it to home before the tag. Since it was up the line, it took away any option to slide under or plow through the tag.

  • jswanson

    We will win 90 + and Maholm will be a Cy Young contender. We just need to get rid of Pat Listach.

  • Seymour Butts

    No change in expectations. I though it was a .500 team out of the spring and was disappointed with the start. We would likely be at or above >500 now if not for one players play. Thank (insert deity of choice) we don’t have Marmol closing now. If he was, we would not likely be sitting on this steak of winning ball.
    I was curious when you said “the ball tailed toward what would be foul territory in any other ballpark”. Are not the lines divergent at 90 degrees in all parks?

  • Dusty Baylor

    of course it’s not close…because a great first relay, and then the second throw came up the line right into Castro instead of coming into home plate, where if it wasn’t directly on target, he might have beat it.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    What I mean is that in every other park, there’s not a wall there. That ball would have been playable in most other parks, or at least it wouldn’t have ricocheted back into fair territory.

  • Jedi

    A relay that quick and precise he probably doesn’t beat it at home, no matter how creative the slide. But Dan Uggla is the Braves’ second baseman. I wouldn’t want my 3B coach to assume every relay was going to be perfect – let alone a relay from Uggla. Force them to make a perfect play. I think my complaint with Listach there isn’t that he sent Castro, but that he didn’t try and wait a little longer before making the decision. Backpedal towards home and give yourself as much time as possible to stop Castro. If Uggla turns and fires smoothly, put the breaks on…if not, Castro can probably beat the relay.

  • flyslinger2

    The wave around to home is a positive. New found speed is being capitalized on and the brain trust is sending a message to scouts that they will run, a message to the players that they will be used for their quickness and that they have confidence in the starting rotation to keep them in the game. No fan wouldn’t appreciate the recent performance. They shouldn’t be allowed to get lulled into a false sense of satisfaction. It’s quit possible that this peak stalls and we are back to what we were projecting in the offseason and during spring training.

    It is nice to watch competitive baseball.

  • Bono

    A successful season is STILL losing less than 100 games and finding some small glimmer of hope at hanging around for a wild card in 2013.

  • Kevin

    Hey if we can keep pulling out these series against these solid teams and the pitching stays at this level, I think we can finish slightly above .500. You never know though, thats why I love baseball. All I can say it is fun watching/ listening to this young team! Go Cubs Go!

  • Doc Raker

    The Cubs scored 1 run and the Braves didn’t score any, that is how they won. Usually, most always, for the vast majority of the time whenever the Cubs score more runs than the other team, they win. Simple.

  • Doc Raker

    You see the fine line between winning a series and losing a series, one bad bullpen inning makes the difference. If Wood and Marmol were set up and closer we lose this game and the Braves take 2 of 3, but with a scoreless 8th and 9th inning we win the series, over the course of 162 games that alone can change a 10 under .500 team to a 10 over .500 team. Russell and Dolis finished the Braves off without any real drama except for Chipper Jones last AB at Wrigley. Well done, give me some more!

  • Jedi

    Cute. But since 2001, there have been 25 no-hitters thrown. In that same period, only NINE times has a team batted in at least 8 innings, seen 83 pitches or fewer, AND won the game. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 5/25/2008 (and it hasn’t happened in a 1-0 game since 2007!). So yeah, it’s been four years since a team managed to win the way the Cubs won on Wednesday. The Cubs haven’t won a game that way since 1997.

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