Cubs Blow Lead And Chances, Lose To Nationals 2-1

Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Ryan Dempster delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Washington Nationals on opening day at Wrigley Field. Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

I have a feeling we're going to see a lot of games like this, this season. Not necessarily blown leads, not necessarily losses, just tightly pitched, low-scoring affairs.

So instead of talking about the Cubs' 2-1 loss to the Nationals right away, let's talk about some of the Opening Day hoopla and changes to Wrigley Field.

The new party patio in right field and LED board look good. Yes, the patio looks like the Green Monster seats at Fenway Park in Boston. But seriously, how else would you design something like that? There are only so many ways you can put together a seating area like that. The LED board is unobtrusive and blends in well. It's covered by netting, so if a ball hits off it, it won't (or shouldn't, anyway) break. Incidentally, if a ball hits off it, it's a home run. The basket that was below the old seating area is still there -- that demarcates the home run line.

Today, the board had some miscellaneous statistics on it, mostly from last year, although after a few innings, it was updated with current numbers. They put pitch counts there, including reset pitch counts for relief pitchers. The numbers are a little small to be read far away, and hopefully in the future, they'll get additional information there -- maybe ball and strike totals for pitchers, lineup changes, scoring plays and bigger numbers so everyone can see.

Food prices have gone up. Scorecard prices have gone up. With the economy still not totally recovered, this wasn't, I think, the greatest of ideas. We'll see if this translates to lower sales.

It was almost freakish to see the ivy out in mid-May form, as I tweeted this morning. I have never seen ivy that full this early; in fact, normally there isn't any this time of year.

Attendance was announced as 41,176, which would translate to a sellout; the bleachers were not quite full (I'd say about 400-500 short) and some of the corners of both the lower and upper deck seemed to have some vacancies.

All right, now let's talk about the game. Ryan Dempster gave up a hit to Ian Desmond on the first pitch of the game and then was lockdown-good. He issued three walks, allowed one further baserunner on an error, and retired 15 straight until Desmond hit a ball in the eighth inning that Jeff Baker should have made a play on. Baker looked like he had no idea what to even do on the play; the ball rolled into right field for another hit. Dempster struck out Danny Espinosa, which should have ended the inning.

Instead, at 108 pitches, Dempster was lifted for Kerry Wood.

Wood was bad today. He issued three walks, forcing in the tying run, before finally ending the inning on a groundout. It did appear that he had strike three on at least two of the hitters he walked; plate umpire Dana DeMuth was squeezing just about everyone this afternoon, and Wood couldn't adjust.

Meanwhile, the Cubs had their chances off Stephen Strasburg. They took a 1-0 lead in the fourth even though Alfonso Soriano was caught stealing third base, after a single and Ian Stewart reaching on a fielder's choice. It wasn't a bad chance to take, especially with the wind howling in at 20+ miles per hour; this is exactly the kind of risk that Dale Sveum has been taking all spring. It didn't work. After a walk to Baker, Marlon Byrd drove in the run.

Strasburg, for his part, set the Cubs down pretty well through seven; there were a couple of fly balls that might have been home runs on other days, but then the Nats hit some of those too, off Dempster -- Ryan Zimmerman might have had a pair of long home runs on any other day, and Jayson Werth came close, also.

Ian Stewart did, too, in the ninth; his one-out drive to the deepest part of right field, in the well, would have landed in the basket for a game-tying home run after Carlos Marmol gave up a pair of two-out hits to give the Nats the lead in the top of the inning. Stewart hustled to third base with a triple; Joe Mather ran for him.

Mather took off for the plate on a contact play with Baker batting, and with the infield in, he was an easy out at the plate. It looked like the pitch on which Byrd was called out on strikes to end the game was ball four -- that's the pitch that had been consistently called a ball all day, and Byrd started to head for first base, but DeMuth called him out. Maybe DeMuth was getting cold, I don't know. Rafael Dolis had started to warm up to throw the 10th, if needed -- incidentally, he's changed uniform numbers, now wearing No. 48.

Speaking of cold, with the wind howling in, the right-field upper deck started to clear out by the fourth inning; people there must have been freezing. Even the lower deck began to empty out by the middle innings, and after Bill Murray's seventh-inning stretch singing, there was a mass exodus to the warmth, presumably, of area watering holes. The bleachers, in the sun, were tolerably warm.

If the Cubs can get decent starting pitching like Dempster showed today, they'll win their share of games. Facing a tough opponent like Strasburg, give Dempster and the Cubs credit for hanging in there, although they need to play tighter defense.

The teams will take Friday off and resume the series on Saturday, with Matt Garza facing Gio Gonzalez. Reports on Bryan LaHair say that he might be able to start by Sunday; if not, I think it's probably for the best that they DL him (it can be retroactive to March 30).

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