Last night was a tough one for Cub Nation. Jason Marquis was able to keep all but two Giants from crossing the plate and yet the Cubs give him only a run, getting dominated by Matt Cain, a guy with a 5-6 record and a 4.13 ERA. If that's the real Cain, then Abel never had a chance.
Comparing the results of last night's loss to the White Sox walk-off extra inning victory over the Indians and ace Cliff Lee, it makes any Cub fan start to truly question who the better team is this season. First of all, the Cubs were getting shut down by Matt Cain, not by the guy who has the second best ERA in the American League. Next, the White Sox, despite allowing the Indians to tie the game and take the lead, find a way off former Cub Joe Borowski to win and not shut down in the face of good pitching. Now, while many (and I myself) might argue Borowski gave up the homer because he is a former Cub, the point is really that Sexy Alexei got the job done and Ryan Theriot, as rare as his strikeouts are (he has only 29), didn't.
The Cubs just always appear stymied against good pitching. Now obviously a good pitchers job is to stymie the other team, but this is a two way street, and when an offense scores runs it isn't just because the pitcher is having an off day. The Cubs did really good last time they were hot against the Sox, killing Jose Contreras and Javier Vasquez at Wrigley, but that was definitely because those guys were struggling, not solely because the Cubs offense was all of a sudden taking amazing swings. With the exception of the home runs in that series' first game against Dotel and Linebrink, the Cubs usually just clobber the horrid, not upset the Goliaths of the mound. With the two notable exceptions in my mind of beating St. Louis' Kyle Lohse a couple months ago and Dan Haren of the D'backs, the Cubs really haven't beaten great pitching.
Now the NL only has so much great pitching to offer, but it's more about finding ways against someone who is pitching well at the time and in the playoffs, the Cubs would obviously face pitchers on top of their game. The Cubs have proven they're successful when they are more patient and they lose that mentality when a pitcher gives them sound, corner-painting first-pitch strikes. Fukudome looked ridiculous last night after getting down in the count as did others, but Fukudome's swing makes him look the most ridiculous.
With Tim Lincecum tomorrow and the Cardinals coming up this weekend-pitchers with good records and decent but not incredible ERAs (Looper, Wellemeyer, Lohse) who are capable of looking good at any given time-the Cubs will need to get better at breaking pitchers who are given them decent stuff. Having Ramirez back for Lincecum's start will be a huge help, especially with Gallagher starting for the Cubs.
Looking at tonight's match-up, I'm going to be quite enraged if Dempster doesn't get his first road win. If Marquis and Lilly can suppress this atrocious Giants offense, Dempster has no excuse to fail unless his White Sox performance was more than a one-time deal and something is off with him. Tonight, he should at least have the cushion for a win with the un-Matt Cain-like Kevin Correia on the mound. Looking deeper than Correia's 1-5 record and 4.79 ERA, he appears to be a very Jason Marquis-like pitcher, only going 5 or so innings, walking a few and striking out only a few more. He did miss a lot of time (all of May and half of June) with an injury, but he's been getting better. All in all, I don't see any excuses for this Cub's offense not to find a way to deliver in the clutch at the very worst against Correia. They'll need it, because there aren't any more Correia's coming up until the Reds series next week.