ATLANTA - AUGUST 14: Matt Garza #17 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on August 14, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Here's what it looks like when the Milwaukee Brewers lose a game, in case you were wondering. Clayton Kershaw was kind enough to not walk anybody, so in spite of Jerry Hairston hitting two doubles against the very same Kershaw, who leads the National League in strikeouts and, up to now, did not lead the league in doubles allowed to surprisingly punchy thirtysomething utility infielders.
That's one way for the Cardinals to gain on the Brewers; another would be to beat the Cubs, who are 11-5 in August just in time to mitigate the Brewers' lost winning streak. Run differential by month: -31; -12; -30; -40; +15.
This is what the Cubs look like when they don't suck: Aramis Ramirez is hitting, Carlos Pena is hitting, Alfonso Soriano is still doing his weird .231/.273/.500 thing, but most importantly their pitching isn't cartoonishly bad. They actually have a solid offense, sucking or not-sucking; only Darwin Barney has an OPS+ under 100, and his OBP is 46 points higher than Soriano's, so I'm sure Mike Quade isn't complaining. (The Cubs currently have not one but two multi-million-dollar stars threatening to finish the season with more home runs than walks—Soriano, at 20 to 19, and Ramirez, at 23 to 24. Ramirez once walked 74 times in a season, but he failed to hit 75 home runs. Carlos Zambrano, sadly, will end his season with two of each.)
They'll score runs, especially with P.J. Walters struggling with the Las Vegas 51s instead of trying to throw sinking changeups through Alfonso Soriano's legs; whether they're pushovers in the Cardinals' attempt to call a regression foul on the Brewers depends on whether their pitching staff is terrible like it has been all year or just kind of bad like it has been this month.
The weekend's starters, for your terrible/bad consideration:
Randy Wells: Randy Wells has been the starter equivalent of Ryan Franklin this year; he's allowed 1.7 home runs per nine innings and his command has gotten noticeably worse. His progression since that great 2009 season isn't especially promising, so if the Cardinals plan on pinning 10 runs on a Cubs staff that's already allowed 611 this year today would be a good time. (Verdict: Might be terrible.)
(This month he's 2-0 with nine strikeouts, two walks, and five home runs allowed in 18 innings. Good luck parsing that.)
Matt Garza: Unfortunately, Matt Garza is really good, or at least he ought to be. He strikes out a batter an inning, walks about a third as many batters, and has seen his home run rate decline since moving out of the AL Central. He's 5-9 because the Cubs are having one of those years where Matt Garza goes 5-9 and Randy Wells goes 4-4. This month he's pitched really well, because he's Matt Garza, and he's 1-1, because he pitches for the Cubs.
(Verdict: Not even just kind of bad! Though the Cubs making the trade that brought him to Chicago in the first place should be perpetually terrifying for fans who are looking for this thirtysomething team to rebuild. It's like the moment your host pulls a burning instant pizza out of the oven and, just when you think he's looking for the takeout menu, reaches for some really great parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top.)
Casey Coleman?: With Carlos Zambrano unwilling to risk humiliating himself by hitting more home runs than walks drawn in 2011 the Cubs looked first to Casey Coleman, a not-especially-distinguished young pitcher who should probably not be in the Majors but, until someone finally starts a AAAA league, has noplace else to go.
Take a look at his minor league numbers: The Cubs threw him past three levels for which he was apparently well-suited at 20 years old and sent him to AA at 21, where he had one of those superficially great underwhelming-third-starter seasons that look so ominous in the Major Leagues. Having gone 14-6 in AA he moved to AAA, where he's also just competent enough.
Should he get the next Zambrano-fill-in-start—it's still TBA—he's another one the Cardinals have to beat up on. The Brewers couldn't hit Clayton Kershaw, but I bet they manage to ding one of Mike Pelfrey, Chris Capuano, and R.A. Dickey.