Lopez Tonight


Move over George Lopez. Prime time tv on Monday night in Chicago was taken over by one Rodrigo Lopez, no relation. The journeyman starter tossed a gem against the highly touted Phillies and outdueled Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. Go figure. In fact, Lopez set down the first nine hitters he faced before giving up a homer to Jimmy Rollins to lead off the fourth inning. The Cubs starter went on to pitch 6 2/3 innings of one run ball with no walks issued. He pounded the strike zone as 67.4% of his pitches were strikes.

Mean while, it was Phillies ace Halladay who struggled on Monday night. Aramis Ramirez gave the Cubs an early 1-0 lead in the first when he lined a first pitch fastball from Halladay into the left field bleachers for a homer. It was Ramirez’s seventeenth of the season and only the ninth round tripper Halladay has given up all season. The Cubs tacked onto the lead in the third thanks to a sac fly by Ramirez and a RBI single by Carlos Pena to make it 3-0. In fact the first three batters in that frame reached base, highlighted by a lead off single by the pitcher Lopez.

Halladay seemed to have trouble handing the hot weather. For some reason he started the game with a long sleeve under shirt beneath his Phillies jersey, which he later removed in between innings. But the long bottom of the third seemed to get to him as his the skin on his face was visibly red and his breathe seemingly labored. He eventually was lifted early after just four innings worked, a rarity for the consistent ace. The speculation was that the move was precautionary for heat exhaustion, and he had to get out of the kitchen.

In games past, the Cubs failure to cash in further on potential big innings would come back to haunt them. After the previously mentioned Rollins homer, there was some concern for that happening again on Monday night. But Lopez kept on cruising and the Cubs tacked on two more in the sixth inning. The light hitting Koyie Hill led the frame off with a walk and he flashed some true catchers speed by stealing second base. Darwin Barney promptly drove him in with a double high off the left field well wall to make it 4-1.

Lopez continued to steal the show with his all around game, and flashed his bunting ability by successfully moving Barney over to third base. Kosuke Fukudome cashed in Barney with a double of his own, but that was all the Cubs would get in that inning. Pena made sure to keep his team home run lead over Ramirez with a solo shot of his own to lead off the seventh inning, and he became the first Cub to reach 20 homers for the season.

The Cubs pen backed up Lopez’s stellar effort by keeping the Phillies scoreless the rest of the way. James Russell continues to excel in his role as a reliever. Cubbies Crib readers know that I have been pounding this point all season long, and as bad as the 2011 season has been for the Cubs, one bright spot has been Russell’s emergence in the pen as a lefty specialist. In fact, Len Kasper and Bob Brenly mentioned in the broadcast last night that when Russell’s appearances are limited to 1 1/3 innings of work or less, his ERA is under 1.00. I believe Sean Marshall should be an untouchable when it comes to possible trade talk this month and in the off season, and combined with Russell, the two southpaws are looking to pair up to be a dominating piece to the Cubs bullpen, a true luxury in Major League Baseball these days when teams have it hard enough just to find one serviceable left handed reliever.

Jeff Samardzija also continued his solid string of games with a scoreless frame, and he has not given up an earned run since June 25th. Jim Hendry and the front office invested heavily in the former wide receiver at Notre Dame, inking Samardzija to a Major League contract to convince the kid to give up on football, and now that the team has settled the pitcher into a relief role, the investment finally seems to be paying off. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the team has an option on the young pitcher for the 2012 that would pay him $3.25 million for the season with no buy out. Considering Samardzija’s production this season for a $2 million salary, the Cubs would be wise to exercise their 2012 option.

I was watching the Sunday Night baseball game on ESPN the other night that saw the Red Sox and Rays in a scoreless battle deep into extra innings, and I got to see the familiar face of Kyle Farnsworth, now the closer for the new look Rays bullpen. When I saw him, I immediately thought of his late blooming career after his struggles coming up with the Cubs, and I thought of Samardzija right now. The kid still needs to get more consistency with his location, but it would be foolish and a shame for the team to let him go now, even if he is due a pay bump in 2012 and 2013.

With a plush five run lead, manager Mike Quade thought it would be a good opportunity to get temporary set up man Carlos Marmol back on the right track. Word is that Marmol needed to get his hand on top of the ball more, as his slider was lacking the nasty last second bite that fans and the team alike are used to seeing. Marmol started the final frame looking like he was ready to earn back his closer title after a couple days off, striking out All Star slugger Ryan Howard and getting Raul Ibanez to ground out. But them the evil walking machine Marmol returned, and he proceeded to put two runners on  via the walk. With Marshall warming in the pen and a pep talk from pitching coach Mark Riggins, Marmol was able to tally a strike out to close the game in a non save situation.