Article first published as Cubs Series Recap: Capping Off a Winning West Coast Trip on Blogcritics.
The Chicago Cubs (14-16) finished a seven game West Coast trip with a victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers (15-17) which solidified a winning record on the trip as the team comes home for two straight divisional series against the Cincinnati Reds and then the beloved St. Louis Cardinals. First, a look at the good that came out of the trip to L.A.
Another Russell loss - What has grown to be an unfortunate pattern for this season, fifth starter James Russell gave up some early runs, the Cubs could not muster any run support for their pitcher, and the game never really felt like a competitive matchup from the beginning. Alfonso Soriano continued to add to his homer total (11), but it was another solo shot. The entire lineup struggled today, and Carlos Pena's batting average dipped to .157 after an 0-for-4 performance (spoiler alert: it goes up soon). The best news of the day came when Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells both threw off the mound, though the two starters are still not due back for at least a few weeks.
Welcome back Carlos Pena - The off season free agent pickup made Cubs fans rejoice with his first home run of the season, a solo shot that tied the game. Perhaps, that was just enough of a momentum boost to give the team some swagger as it produced three runs in the top of the ninth, including a two-run double from Geovany Soto to seal the victory. Ryan Dempster bounced back off a miserable performance to pitch seven innings allowing one run and watching his earned run average drop nearly 1.5 points.
Chicks dig the long ball - The team went yard three times in this game, including Pena's second (cross your fingers that his power surge continues this weekend), Soto's third, and Marlon Byrd's first (a big three run blast). Carlos Zambrano added a hit, but more importantly, pitched eight strong innings scattering five hits yet only striking out four batters. He was efficient, which is more than can be said of the Cubs' baserunning skills. The trip has revealed some mental lapses, none discussed more by Cubs fans than Aramis Ramirez's pickoff in this game. Hopefully, coach Bobby Dernier will reinforce some concepts with the team.
Keeping Score: With a series win, the Cubs climbed closer to .500 again, and that's what they'll need to overcome in order to reach my targeted 85 win prediction.
On Deck: Here we go - fasten your seat belts. It's divisional match up time with the second place Cincinnati Reds followed by the first place St. Louis Cardinals at home for a pair of three game sets. If the Cubs are going to be serious contenders this season, they'll need to win their division, and it all starts with beating your divisional rivals. We'll call this weekend's series a "must win." I know, it's early, but I really believe it, and I hope it will be a vibrant atmosphere at Wrigley starting on Friday.
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