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I'm liking this Cubs home-run power, especially late in the game. Here's hoping this carries over into the regular season.
PHOENIX, Arizona -- Sure, it was in a meaningless spring-training game. Sure, it was against someone very unlikely to make the Brewers' 25-man roster. Still, the Cubs' ninth-inning rally that broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Cubs their second straight win, 4-1 over the Brewers was nicely done, and by players that will be on the Cubs' 25-man roster. Except for Welington Castillo and David DeJesus, all the Opening Day starters who were in Friday's lineup played the entire game. It was Darwin Barney's two-run homer that gave the Cubs the lead, and pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro (who has looked very, very good this spring) also homered to help give the Cubs a cushion.
Zach Putnam, who has an outside shot at making the 25-man roster, gave up a walk and a hit in the last of the ninth, but struck out Brewers minor-leaguer Caleb Gindl for the save. Truth be told, I don't think Putnam will make it, as I suspect the desire to have a second lefthander in the bullpen will put Hisanori Takahashi on the Opening Day roster instead of one of the right-handed options Dale Sveum still has in camp.
One of those options, Cory Wade, gave up a long home run to Khristopher Davis, who has tremendous power (.604 SLG combined in 316 PA at three minor-league levels in 2012) but no real place to play in the Brewers lineup. That tied the game 1-1 after Carlos Villanueva threw a very good six innings, giving up just five singles and one walk. It was by far Villanueva's best outing of the spring. Let's hope he keeps in that groove.
The Cubs had taken a 1-0 lead on a walk, a sacrifice bunt by Villanueva (Hooray! A Cubs pitcher laid down a successful sacrifice!) and then a wind-blown popup that Aramis Ramirez appeared to have in view. The ball blew back in fair territory, away from A-Ram, and Brewers shortstop Donnie Murphy let it glance off his glove for an error, scoring Luis Valbuena, who had drawn that leadoff walk.
The crowd at Maryvale Friday afternoon seemed almost evenly split between Cubs and Brewers fans, and it was one of their larger crowds of the spring at 8,806. I had not been to Maryvale since 2007 -- just the way the schedules have fallen the last few years, with the Cubs there mostly early in the spring -- and had forgotten one thing. There are absolutely no PA speakers on the lawn. None. This is fine when you don't want to be bombarded with the usual between-inning advertising; not so much when you'd like to hear the names of the lineup and substitutions (fortunately, they do place them on the scoreboard).
One other interesting note on today's soujourn: I used to find Maryvale, which was built in 1998 -- despite its location in not one of the nicer parts of town -- one of the better parks in the Cactus League. Now, having not been there for six years, there are several other newer complexes for spring training that have more amenities, better in-and-out parking, and better player facilities. Maryvale seems, for lack of a better term, somewhat tired. I hear the Brewers would like to get out, but they really have nowhere to go. They may be able to tap into some funds from the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority for both player and fan upgrades, but it's by no means certain those would become available.
Saturday, the Cubs are expecting their biggest crowd of the spring when they return to Mesa to face the Angels. Edwin Jackson will go for the Cubs; Joe Blanton will throw for an Angels split-squad (the other Angels split-squad plays in Tempe, so there's no guarantee the Cubs will see Angels stars like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton). WGN-TV again carries Saturday's game, as does WGN radio.