In Which We Look Back At the Last 10

We’ll start with the email:

“Dear Mr. Big Bad:

We know that you like to put up a poem or picture to inspire folks on patriotic holidays. And we know you do so with the best of intentions. But, if it’s all right with you, sir, we would prefer to hear about baseball and laugh.

Yours in Iraq,

Name withheld by request”

Well, while I certainly don’t deserve to be called “sir,” I can see how “mam” wouldn’t work all that well either.

All right soldier, I’ll do what I can to make you smile and I can guarantee that the Cubs will make you laugh.

Yesterday I went to a party that was billed as “All you can drink” which sounded good to me. What they neglected to mention was that it should have read “All you can drink as long as you can pay for it.” Not that I mind paying for my drinks but a little warning in that situation would have been nice. They also didn’t have any air conditioning. I know, our esteemed soldier is laughing at my wimpy ass right about now. But what was happening is that I was sweating out the perfectly good booze I had paid for so fast that it wasn’t having any effect. I may as well have been drinking water and we all know what fish do in that stuff.

So I left that party, which was a shame since there were smoking hot women there who seemed to enjoy the company of an employed man. But, leave I did to go to my favorite watering hole which had the air on, the games on and, basically, just had it all going on.

No smoking hot chicks willing to give it up but, at my age, maybe baseball’s safer.

Carrie Muskat popped on a pith helmet and wet her scarf to withstand the heat so she could bring us a recap of the Cubs’ stunning descent into obscurity.

Twelve games ago, Starlin Castro was the Cubs’ No. 3 hitter, Chris Volstad was in the rotation, rookie Rafael Dolis was the closer, Geovany Soto was catching, and Kerry Wood was in the bullpen.

Now, Castro is hitting second, Volstad is starting at Triple-A Iowa, Dolis is trying to find his command, Soto is one of three catchers on the disabled list, and Wood has retired.

And, the Cubs have lost 12 in a row.

Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run home run off Matt Garza in the first inning, one of three he served up, to get the Pirates off on the right foot as they cruised to a 10-4 victory on Sunday over the Cubs at PNC Park.

This ranks among the five longest losing streaks in Cubs franchise history, which include an 0-14 start in 1997; a 13-game streak from June 12-25, 1985; a span of 13 from May 30-June 13, 1982; and a run of 12 from April 12-26.

It’s featured six one-run losses, seven games in which the Cubs have scored two runs or fewer, and four games in which they’ve given up three or fewer.

Garza said neither he nor the Cubs are concerned with anything except turning things around.

“We just have to play,” Garza said. “We have great fans. They know the game. We can’t play it for the fans right now. We have to play for every guy in here and every guy has to pull on the same side of the rope—and that’s where we’re at right now.

“This is going to test our character as a club. We just have to keep grinding it out and keep grinding it out. We have to keep what’s [in the clubhouse] tight and not let it break up. We have to keep fighting and keep fighting, and let it turn. We’re not quitters. We’ll keep fighting. We’ll catch a little roll soon.”

During the 12-game skid, the Cubs have hit .236 (94-for-399), scored 33 runs, hit 11 homers, 19 doubles, and one triple. The pitchers have had one save opportunity, and compiled a 5.63 ERA, giving up 64 earned runs over 102 1/3 innings, and 19 home runs.

With the win, the Pirates completed the sweep, their first against any team at home since Sept. 17-19, 2010. The Cubs entered the game with the sixth lowest batting average against left-handed starters—and couldn’t put together much against Erik Bedard (3-5), who gave up two hits over six innings. Chicago fell to 1-9 against southpaws.

“We couldn’t muster up really anything today,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Garza (2-3) gave up Alvarez’s home run in the first, a solo shot by Andrew McCutchen in the fifth, and a two-run blast by Garrett Jones in the sixth over five-plus innings. Garza had only given up five homers over 48 1/3 innings entering the game. It’s the first time he’s been charged with three since the Orioles hit four off him on July 20, 2010.

“He got beat by pitches he shouldn’t be throwing people, really,” Sveum said. “He got beat by his fourth-best pitch, and he had a great fastball today.

“In those situations, against a couple guys, velocity gets them—and he decided to throw changeups. It’s not exactly protocol or what the game plan was. It’s unfortunate and they hit them out of the ballpark. It’s kind of the way things are going.”

Garza said he didn’t think the Pirates would be looking for changeups, but they “buggy-whipped” the pitches out of the park. The outing was frustrating.

“I left two pitches middle-down and they got ‘em,” Garza said. “It’s upsetting, frustrating. We have to get somebody to stop this snowball.”

The Pirates didn’t waste any time. Jose Tabata singled to lead off and reached third on a throwing error by Garza, who fielded Josh Harrison’s sacrifice but overthrew first. Tabata was forced at home on McCutchen’s grounder, but Alvarez followed with his home run, the first three-run shot by a Pirates player this year.

“As soon as [Alvarez] puts up the three-spot, you feel like your back is against the wall—especially when you know a team has eight more [innings],” Sveum said.

“You don’t go, ‘Hey, c’mon, offense,’” Garza said. “My first job is to keep runs off the board—and giving a three-spot up in the first doesn’t really help anybody. All it does is build pressure and make guys have to do stuff—and we get outside of our comfort zone and start doing things we’re not used to doing.

“I’ve got to get right quick and get ready for [San Francisco] in six days.”

Castro’s two-run homer highlighted a three-run eighth that helped the Cubs avoid being shut out for the third time in the 12 games.

The Cubs were 12-9 in 21 games from April 21-May 14, but now are 2-14 in their last 16. They return home to Wrigley Field on Monday for a brief three-game homestand against the Padres.

“We have passionate fans,” Sveum said. “Patience is something a lot of fans don’t have. I’m a huge football fan, and I don’t understand the Oakland Raiders losing every game. That’s the way it is. Passionate fans want to win, just like we want to win. That’s just part of every city—and especially in a city as passionate as Chicago Cubs fans are.”

Sveum used the word “passion” in so many permutations that I was afraid he was going to start reciting 50 Shades of Cubbie Blue. While Garza giving up a 3 run homer in the first didn’t help, neither did much of anything else. Ground balls are getting waved at, opposing pitchers are getting a couple of free passes to start each at bat and it’s getting to the point where even the solid players are coming apart at the seams. Brian LaHair is in need of therapy. They put so much pressure on him to be “the guy” that they neglected to note that he’d never once in his career assumed that kind of weight. Now he just stares glassy eyed at every pitch that whizzes past him.

For the record, that’s not a good thing.

On the Southside things seem to be going a little better. While the Cubs have lost ten of their last ten games, the Sox have won nine. And they might have won the tenth had they not been up at 7:00 AM on a game-day to bury their friend. Scott Merkin was back in the saddle at The Cell and brings us all the fun news.

Gordon Beckham stood on first base during the eighth inning of Sunday’s 12-6 White Sox victory over the Indians before 22,182 at U.S. Cellular Field when he happened to get a glance at Paul Konerko’s name on the scoreboard.

“I looked up and he was .399 with 11 home runs and whatever,” said a smiling Beckham, who was as impressed as everyone else with Konerko’s amazing accomplishments. “It’s nice to have everybody clicking, and when you have a guy like that in the middle of the order, it’s not a surprise that we’re winning games. He’s been so good.”

Calling Konerko good right now seems to sell short the video game-like numbers put together by the White Sox’s captain over the last few weeks.

Factoring in Sunday’s 2-for-4 showing, Konerko has raised his average to a Major League-best .399 for the season. His three-run homer off of Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez (5-4) with two outs in the fourth proved to be the game-winner and extended Konerko’s hitting streak to 13 games.

Konerko is hitting .565 over the last 13 games and the first baseman has 23 hits over his last 36 at-bats with five homers and 14 RBIs in the last 10 games. The blast Konerko delivered on a 2-2 slider also happened to be career homer No. 407, but the 400th homer to come during his years with the White Sox (26-22).

Frank Thomas, who turned 44 on Sunday, tops the franchise with his 448 homers as a member of the White Sox. But even Konerko acknowledged the meaning of White Sox homer No. 400, making it stand out more coming from the consummate professional who never talks about individual numbers.

“That one does [mean something], just from the longevity standpoint of being here,” said Konerko, who has 11 homers and 33 RBIs this season. “It’s probably the thing I’m proud of most more than any numbers.

“In today’s game, it takes a pretty good effort on both sides to make that happen, so I think that I’m proud of that because I wanted that to happen and I respect the fact they wanted it to happen on the other side. It’s cool, but it’s one of those things you look back on when you are done and I’ll enjoy it more then. We are in the middle of the grind now.”

This pace set by Konerko is as hot as the 96-degree summer temperatures in Chicago. But there was more than Konerko this weekend to the hard-charging White Sox, who completed a three-game sweep of the American League Central-leading Indians (26-21) and moved within half a game of first place with their fifth straight win. The White Sox also have won nine of their last 10 games.

During those nine wins, the White Sox have outscored their opponents by a combined 74-31 margin.

“They’re playing well,” said Indians designated hitter Johnny Damon, whose three-run homer in the second brought the Indians even at the time. “It seems like we caught the White Sox at the wrong time.”

“We’ve got a lot of talent. It’s nice to have that all come out at the same time,” said Beckham, who matched a career-high with four hits and raised his average to .224. “It’s good to get going like this at the end of May, and hopefully keep going.”

Jimenez and reliever Jairo Asencio were the prime victims of the latest White Sox offensive assault, as the two combined to give up 10 runs on 12 hits. Every White Sox starter reached base and every starter but Adam Dunn and Tyler Flowers had at least one hit.

Gavin Floyd (4-5) and Jimenez both struggled through four innings. But after Konerko connected for the go-ahead shot, Floyd retired the side in order in the fifth to maintain control for Chicago.

Floyd still yielded five runs on 10 hits over five-plus innings and put the eighth and ninth hitters on base six times combined. He hit three batters on two-strike pitches.

Factoring in Sunday’s effort, Floyd has given up 28 hits and 21 earned runs over his last 14 2/3 innings. He managed to minimize the damage on Sunday, holding the Indians to one total run over the third and the fourth innings, when they had seven baserunners. Then, Konerko gave his starter some room to work.

“I’m trying to go out there and put up zeros,” Floyd said. “By no means does it make you at ease or anything like that. You’re trying to go out there and make pitches and get those guys out.”

Orlando Hudson’s two-run triple and Alejandro De Aza’s ensuing triple gave the White Sox a 10-4 lead after scoring three in the fifth. Dayan Viciedo’s two-run single in the eighth, leaving him with 20 RBIs in his last 13 games, capped off the weekend destruction featuring Konerko and his late-May pursuit of .400.

“Everything he touches is finding pasture or finding the bleachers,” said Damon of Konerko.

Cleveland played without Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner and Carlos Santana for much of the three-game set. But they wouldn’t have been called upon to shut down this red-hot White Sox offense, which hit .321 with 13 homers over a 5-1 home stand.

“Every guy wants to go up there and contribute,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Those are good at-bats. It just continues. Every guy is going up there with a good approach.”

“Any time you’re missing your 3-4-5 guys also, it can be tough on a team,” Damon said. “It was a tough series. We also have to remember that we’re in first place.”

Gavin Floyd’s prayers last night better have included thanks that he’s on the Sox. A performance like that on the Northside and he’d be in the Hall of fame for most runs surrendered by a starting pitcher. In fact that could be said of many teams. What’s not mentioned in the article is that Floyd was the beneficiary of several solid defensive plays.

No highlight reel stuff, just plays teams need to make to keep the other team from touching home. Which, considering the Indians can put up video game numbers wit their bats, is a mandatory requirement.

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