Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cubs Series Recap - A Chilly Return to Chicago and .500

Article first published as Cubs Series Recap - A Chilly Return to Chicago and .500 on Blogcritics.

The Chicago Cubs (9-9) managed to continue their strange obsession with the .500 mark by returning to 8-8 and then 9-9 after taking two of three from the visiting San Diego Padres (8-10). The pitching staff got the team off to a solid start in the first two games before spot starter James Russell struggled to prevent the team from getting their first series sweep of the year.

Big Z goes sleeveless - Carlos Zambrano showed off his toughness (or craziness) when he went sleeveless on one of the coldest days that Chicago has seen in awhile. Big Z was dominating and the crowd appreciated how he made quick work of the Padres, giving up only three hits and striking out ten in eight innings. Two of the "three animals", Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol kept the team in it at the end, and Tyler Colvin drove in the game winning run in the bottom of the tenth.  I liked manager Mike Quade's use of Marshall and Marmol to give the Cubs the best chance to stay in the game and the offense rewarded him with a clutch hit in the extra frame. This move also made Kerry Wood available to close out the game on Tuesday.

Garza finally delivers - Of course, Tuesday came and rain forced the game to be played on Wednesday as part of a day-night doubleheader. Former Tampa Bay Devil Ray Matt Garza pitched in the day game and delivered his strongest performance yet. The free agent acquisition struck out nine while giving up six hits, and he should have earned his fist win as a Cub until Marmol blew his second save in the ninth. The bullpen held the Padres from scoring (there was a head scratcher when San Diego did not try to tag on a sacrifice fly late in the game), and Reed Johnson delivered a walk off homer to guarantee the series win for the Cubs.

Missing Wells and Cashner - It is unfair to blame the loss in the nightcap on James Russell since he was not expecting to be the Cubs' fifth starter so early in the season. Thus, we'll focus on the bats, not for their lack of hits (13 in the game), but for the lack of clutch hitting (7 men left on base) as well as a questionable base running decision by Reed Johnson, the hero of game one.  The Cubs need at least one of their starters (Randy Wells or Andrew Cashner) back in order to break through and stay on the other side of .500.

Keeping Score - Back and forth yet again, a .500 winning percentage is no longer a surprise as we inch closer to the predicted 85 win mark.

On Deck - The Los Angeles Dodgers (10-10) come to town with a new owner (MLB) and a mediocre start. A series win will put the Cubs two games above .500, just in time for the NL leading Rockies to come in and take two of three. We'll call this a "critical" series for that point alone.

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