PHOENIX, Arizona -- The Cubs played to their second 8-8 tie this week, this time with the A's in front of the smallest crowd of the spring, 4,137. Most of us were wearing Cubs blue, and if you were listening on MLB Audio you probably heard the loud cheers for Geovany Soto's two homers, the first a grand slam.
Why does this 8-8 tie result mean nothing? Because while the major leaguers were still in the game, the Cubs raced out to a 6-1 lead. Carlos Zambrano was pulled with one out in the fourth -- apparently, this is Lou's plan, because Ryan Dempster will only go three tomorrow -- and Luis Vizcaino came in and gave up a single and a homer to Travis Buck (whose girlfriend, or at least a woman he knew, raced down the aisle next to me when Buck came in after the sixth inning and said, "Travis! Call me later!" Buck nodded affirmatively).
Now, Vizcaino was probably being showcased. That didn't work out too well, did it? It made the score 6-3, and here's what I'm thinking. If the Cubs simply release Vizcaino, someone will probably pick him up for the minimum salary (and thus, assume his $500,000 buyout for 2010). That would mean the Cubs would be on the hook for $3 million -- not chump change, but in essence, it would be the equivalent of eating $3 million worth of Jason Marquis' contract, which a lot of us said would be worth it. I haven't heard anything, but this would allow the Cubs to keep both David Patton and Angel Guzman, which I think they want to do.
Speaking of Guzman, his line today -- two hits hits and an unearned run -- reflects the inability of the minor league infielders who replaced everyone except Aaron Miles to make plays. Two of the hits should have been inning-ending double-play balls, but neither Kyle Reynolds (who was charged with an error) nor Starlin "Vocal Band" Castro (no afternoon delight from him) could make the plays. The same thing happened to Neal Cotts; Micah Hoffpauir couldn't make a play on a ball that Derrek Lee would have handled easily, and that helped open a five-hit inning off Cotts, who got several ground balls that should also have easily ended the inning. (Cotts did wind up striking out the side).
Again in the 9th, Jeff Samardzija was victimized when Hoffpauir made an error, which, after a sacrifice, led to the run that tied the game at 8.
Essentially, then, none of the A's last five runs should have scored, and I believe wouldn't have scored, with competent major league defense. So you can't judge Guzman, Cotts or Shark's pitching by their numbers; I thought all of them threw well today. And honestly, I'm not crazy about Lou pulling the regulars this early in late-spring-training games; starting Monday they're going to have to go nine, why not now? And why only three innings for Z and Dempster, when next week they're expected to go seven? This is the same kind of thinking that, I believe, got the Cubs to lose their edge after clinching the Central last September.
Anyway. Alex Maestri, rewarded with a major league appearance after a spring in the minor league camp, threw well, striking out the side in his inning of work. The three victims were all major league players: Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez. Maestri showed good poise on the mound and has a nasty little curveball. If he can develop a third pitch he might turn into a nice setup man in the majors. I expect (and Josh77, correct me if you think different) that Maestri is ticketed for Double-A, but he could be promoted to Iowa quickly if he shows well there. Another minor leaguer of note, Brandon Guyer, who homered in last year's "Road to Wrigley" game and (shameless promotion coming!) is profiled by Josh in the Maple Street Press 2009 Cubs Annual, came in to play right field and smacked a double down the line. Guyer can hit; he's a long way from Wrigley, but if he hits like that and stays healthy, he'll be high on the prospect list by next year, if not before. Finally, Jason Waddell, a 27-year-old lefty who Lou likes, threw a scoreless inning -- if he's at Iowa, watch for him to be a recall later in the year.
Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot and Aramis Ramirez all had a pair of hits before being replaced -- Lee looks like he's got his swing going real nice, and the Cubs must have pre-arranged with the A's to use the DH rule after Z, who threw 3.1 nice innings, was removed from the game. It confused the MLB.com boxscore people, who had the pitcher batting in the #1 spot until Kosuke Fukudome, who pinch-hit for Maestri, came up a second time and walked.
The final Arizona spring game of 2009 will be tomorrow; Dempster will face Cleveland's Anthony Reyes. Expect the regulars to play only a handful of innings and then head for the airport to fly to New York. The game will be on WMMS (Cleveland) and at the MLB.com Mediacenter. Reminder, tomorrow's game starts an hour earlier than today's, at 12:05 Arizona time, 2:05 CDT.