Chicago Cubs: Ted Lilly was a tremendous No. 2
In many ways, former Chicago Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly was the total antithesis to Carlos Zambrano.
Carlos Zambrano had developed into one of the faces of the Chicago Cubs franchise in the mid-2000s, a homegrown talent whose fiery temper and attitude always seemed to get in the way of stardom.
Ted Lilly, meanwhile, arrived in Chicago as a journeyman starter who never once looked like he would be a star, though he did make an All-Star team as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004.
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The duo also had completely different styles. Zambrano was a power pitcher who relied on his two-seam fastball and a hard-biting splitter. Lilly was strictly finesse, with a slow windup and a loopy curveball keeping hitters off balance.
Zambrano walked tons of hitters but rarely conceded homers. Lilly rarely gave in to opposing hitters but was especially susceptible to the long ball.
Despite these differences, however, Zambrano and Lilly became a rather dependable 1-2 punch for the Cubs towards the end of the 2000s. For his part, Lilly had arguably his best years on the North Side.
Lilly went 47-34 with a 3.70 ERA in three-plus seasons with the Cubs. He threw over 200 innings in both 2007 and 2008, solidifying his role as an innings-eater for two Cub teams that would help reinvigorate the franchise with a pair of playoff appearances.
The 2009 campaign was the finest individual season of Lilly’s career. He went 12-9 with a 3.10 ERA and a 144 ERA+ in 27 starts while also posting a career-high 1.056 WHIP. Lilly made his second career All-Star team, and he headlined a rotation that ranked second in fWAR that year, per FanGraphs.
Even when the Cubs looked destined for a rebuild in 2010, Lilly still had individual success. He posted a 3.69 ERA and threw 117 innings in 18 starts, and he also provided one of the most memorable pitching performances in Cubs history.
Lilly took the mound against the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox on June 13, 2010. He proceeded to engage in an epic pitcher’s duel with White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd.
Neither pitcher allowed a hit for the first six frames until Alfonso Soriano doubled off Floyd in the bottom of the seventh inning. Lilly took his no-hitter into the ninth, but Juan Pierre (pinch-hitting for Floyd) singled to break up Lilly’s bid to become the first Cubs pitcher to throw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field since Milt Pappas in 1972. Still, it was a dazzling display and perhaps one of the most overlooked games of the last decade.
Lilly, however, should not be overlooked. He was the perfect kind of bridge guy as the careers of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood slowly petered out.
Plus, he went about his business with a very stoic, professional attitude, which made him the perfect complement to Zambrano’s feisty persona.