Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ace in a hole

Whew! I had to take a couple of deep breaths after Friday's thrilling renewal of the classic Cubs/Cardinals rivalry. In a game the Cubs should have walked away with (Carlos Zambrano vs. P.J. Walters, who was making his Major League debut), a 3-0 Cubs lead turned into a 5-3 deficit turned into a 5-5 tie turned into a 7-5 deficit turned into a dramatic 8-7 victory when Soriano drove a low slider from Chris Perez out to left center. It was the first truly nice day at Wrigley this season, and the fans on hand surely enjoyed the action on the field just as much as the weather.

Lots of good and a little bad in this game:

-Soriano's home run was his 5th of the season, which ties him for the league lead and more than doubles his combined HR total from the last two Aprils (two last year, zero in '07). He also has nine RBI, more than the combined six he had the last two Aprils. You could argue that every home run Sori has hit has been clutch--three of them have been in the 8th inning or later, and every one has either tied the game or given the Cubs the lead.

-Heilman got his second win of the year, pitching a scoreless 8th.

-Marmol threw five bad pitches to begin the 9th, resulting in a walk and a hit batsman, and just when I said he was going to have to rely solely on his slider, he blew three fastballs by Ryan Ludwick and then induced a double play ball from Khalil Greene to tally his second save. Marmol has yet to allow an earned run this season.

-The heart of the Cubs lineup (Lee-Hoffpauir-Ramirez) was 7-13 with three runs and four RBI.

-Soto's been struggling in his comeback from injury, but he drove in a run with a single to right, and later walked.

-Zambrano was the only starter without a hit.

-Big Z went seven innings, but allowed seven runs on nine hits, including three home runs. The outing raised Zambrano's ERA to 5.21.

-While they scored two runs in the opening frame, the Cubs had 1st and 3rd with one out, but didn't get any more. In the second, they had the bases loaded with nobody out, but only pushed one run across. Thus far, the Cubs are batting just .220 with runners in scoring position, 14th in the NL (I know, it's early, but the Cubs need to start getting some of those big hits).

-Heilman, Guzman and Cotts are all tied for the league lead in appearances by a reliever, with six. It was good to get seven innings out of Carlos today--we need more of that in the future.

I think we were all hoping from a little more consistency out of Zambrano this year. He's had two bad starts out of three, and has one win in those three starts. But, a win's a win and the Cubs stand at 6-4 after their first 10.

While there's no such thing as a must-win in April, the Cubs were on the verge of falling back to .500, losing three straight at Wrigley and falling into a 2-0 hole in the series. Instead, the series is even with Dempster and Lilly taking the hill this weekend.

Other notes
-News Friday was that Chris Carpenter is expected to miss 4-8 weeks, so the Cardinals may be relying on P.J. Walters and Co. for quite a while.

-Milton Bradley might face a suspension for making contact with home plate umpire Larry Vanover when he was ejected for arguing a called third strike Thursday. Can we time the suspension to coincide with one of his non-DL injuries, like the one suffered this week?

-Is Marmol the closer now? Kevin Gregg hadn't pitched since Monday, but Marmol was out there in the 9th on Friday. To be fair, Marmol was warming up in the 8th when the Cubs were trailing by one, but still. It certainly has not helped Gregg's cause that he's walked five guys in four innings. It seems to me that Piniella may just ride the hot hand without having an official closer.

MLB note
What is going on with these cycles? 13 days into the season, we've seen three cycles. The Twins' Jason Kubel accomplished the feat Friday, capping it off with a go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning. He's just the seventh player in MLB history to hit a grand slam as part of a cycle.

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