Article first published as Cubs Series Recap: Hot and Cold in the Desert on Blogcritics.
The Chicago Cubs (12-15) finished their season series with the Arizona Diamondbacks (12-15) by splitting a four game set, though the team had a chance to take 3-of-4 in the finale. After winning two of three in an earlier series, they finish 4-3 on the season against the D-Backs.
Not a good start - The four game set did not get off to a good start as Ryan Dempster got torched for seven runs in the first inning, before getting removed after just a single out. The performance did wonders for his earned run average, now hovering close to ten (9.58). There wasn't much to expect from the hitting when down ten runs after three innings, as the bats scraped five hits and two runs in the game. The most noteworthy stat was backup catcher Koyie Hill getting one of those hits.
Not a good start #2 - After surrendering two runs in the first inning, things seemed to be headed south for the Cubbies fast. However, two solo homers by Alfonso Soriano, another by Geovany Soto (the second half of a back-to-back jack with Fonzi) and an RBI by Aramis Ramirez gave the Cubs a much needed victory, and one of the come-from-behind variety. Carlos Zambrano settled down after giving up the 2-run homer, pitched well overall, and he was supported with a solid effort by the bullpen.
The kids are all right - Despite seeing their averages return to earthly numbers, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro drove in key runs to give the Cubs a big lift in Saturday night's matchup. Matt Garza gave up a 3-1 lead, but stayed in the game long enough (8 innings) to keep his team in it, and he was still the pitcher of record when the kids helped the Cubs take the lead for good. I love the energy and enthusiasm that this team has, wth Barney and Castro seeming to provide the sparks for the rest of the team. Add Garza's great personality, Dempster's lighthearted attitude, and the clubhouse appears to be a fun place again. Hopefully, the energy will keep the team's spirits up as they shook off their longest losing streak by winning 2 in a row.
Opportunities lost - You take that energy, enthusiasm, and excitement on the bench, the guys standing on the steps cheering for their teammates, supporting them, and you just hope that the clutch hits will start coming. And then Jeff Baker grounds into a game ending double play on the first pitch of a pinch-hit at bat. Again, the blame can't be pinned on one player, as the team left 18 men on base and Casey Coleman allowed four in five innings (underlining the need to shore up the fourth and fifth starter spots). The team dropped another one run game despite having a real chance to win it in the end.
Keeping Score - A split keeps the Cubs just behind pace of my predicted 85 wins. They'll need to pick up a series or two sometime soon before they fall too far behind the surging Cardinals for the Central Division.
On Deck - The team is off to Los Angeles where hopefully the warm weather will continue to inspire Soriano's bat and carry over to others in the dugout. The team is deserving of a series win, so we'll call this yet another "critical series."
For series recaps and more thoughts about the Chicago Cubs, please subscribe to the feed here.