You guys like him, so look at him again: Bryan LaHair of the Chicago Cubs hits a double in the 8th inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Reds 4-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Cubs had to hang on to a one-run lead in the ninth inning instead; today, Carlos Marmol was "good Carlos", inducing three groundouts, and the Cubs beat the Reds 4-3, improving their record in one-run games to 22-23. They also avoided final mathematical elimination from the postseason; their elimination number from the wild card race is one. If the Braves beat the Phillies Monday night, that eliminates the Cubs. (Obviously, they were really out of all of this months ago.)
Starlin Castro still has work to do on his defense. After a Brandon Phillips double and a wild pitch that put Phillips on third, Castro kicked around a routine grounder by Joey Votto. That scored Phillips and made the score 4-3. This was after both Reed Johnson and Marlon Byrd played Three Stooges with a Yonder Alonso single in the seventh inning; Johnson whiffed at it and Byrd kicked it; Alonso wound up on third where he scored on a groundout.
All of this probably made Garza throw a dozen or so more pitches than he otherwise would have. Garza threw a very nice game, striking out eight and lowering his season ERA to 3.52. That would be the best he's had in a full season, if he can keep it at that level. Ace? Maybe not, but he's been the most consistent Cubs starter most of this year.
Carlos Marmol posted his 32nd save with three groundouts; does that mean he is "back on track"? Who knows? I'd still consider dealing him this offseason if the Cubs could get a decent return.
The Cubs couldn't do anything to former Cubs minor leaguer Dontrelle Willis until the fourth inning, when Willis walked the bases loaded and then Alfonso Soriano singled in a run. The Cubs took the lead in the fifth when they got four straight hits after the first two hitters were out; Aramis Ramirez's two-run single was the big hit in the inning. After that, it was "hang on tight".
Here's a criticism: in the eighth inning, when Geovany Soto reached on an error by Reds third baseman Juan Francisco, why didn't Mike Quade run for him? It's just one more inning, right? Koyie Hill could have handled it? I suggest this because a pinch runner (Casey Coleman, say) would almost certainly have been safe on Bryan LaHair's double into the right field corner. That would have given the Cubs a two-run cushion. Instead, Soto was thrown out. The Reds have seven callups from Triple-A. The Cubs have just LaHair and Andrew Cashner, who was activated today. What's wrong with this picture?
Incidentally, credit where credit is due: LaHair's double came off a 97 MPH fastball from lefthander Aroldis Chapman. That's pretty impressive.
Summer has taken a bit of a vacation after a hot, sticky weekend in Chicago; Monday, it was only in the low 60s, with a strong wind blowing in, and clouds making it feel quite fall-like at Wrigley. The announced attendance was 41,431, though there were still several thousand no-shows and by the middle innings, the first-base side of the park started to empty out, as people sitting on that side were getting the full force of the wind. Attendance for 73 dates is now 2,732,405, an average of 37,430. The Cubs must draw 267,595 for the eight remaining dates, an average of 33,449, to get to the three million mark for the eighth straight year.
My guess: It'll be very, very close. The next two games aren't likely to get to that number and could be quite a bit less, given that they are meaningless night games and the weather is supposed to be somewhat cool.
In any case, it's always nice to win, and beating the Reds and making the Brennamans slink back to their hotel in defeat is doubly nice. The Cubs still have a shot at avoiding 90 losses this year -- they must go 12-9 to do that, not impossible -- and could also have a winning home season if they win seven of the eight remaining home games. That's a longshot -- but something left for the players to shoot for.