MESA, Arizona -- If you will kindly check out this boxscore from the last time the Cubs played the Angels, March 3 in Tempe, you might find the answer to the question, "Why did the Angels send only one of their regulars to Mesa Saturday?"
The Cubs were a split squad that afternoon; the other half played the Brewers in Mesa. As you can see by this boxscore, most of the regulars played in that game (and Starlin Castro probably would have, too, if he hadn't been hurt).
So was this "payback", of a sort? The Cubs send a team of scrubs to Tempe three weeks ago, so the Angels return the favor? I don't know if that's true, but if so, it's pretty disrespectful to the Cubs, the national TV audience on WGN, and the Angels fans who paid to see their team play in Mesa Saturday afternoon, and instead got a team of minor-league scrubs, who were then replaced by other minor-league scrubs.
I get it, to some extent; the Angels want more of their starters at their home park. But seriously, Major League Baseball should enforce the unwritten rule of four starters at every spring-training game, even when there's a split squad. These aren't just practice games. They are now a revenue source for teams. If fans want to see minor-league games, they can watch them for free at the teams' minor-league fields. Ask people to pay, let them see at least some of the big-league players.
For a time, it looked like the miscellaneous minor leaguers (and catcher Chris Iannetta, the only Angels regular sent to Mesa) might just beat the Cubs; they hit Edwin Jackson pretty hard, scoring five off him in five innings (and one batter into the sixth). By the time Jackson left, the miscel-Angels had a 5-1 lead. Joe Blanton, who will be in the Angels rotation, threw six pretty good innings before Brent Lillibridge led off the seventh with a triple down the right-field line. Jackson also had two singles* off Blanton; all together now:
Hey, Edwin! You're not helping my argument in favor of the DH!
* For the record, Cubs pitchers are now hitting .409 (9-for-22) this spring with two home runs and five RBI. I guarantee you this will not be repeated during the regular season.
Anyway, the Cubs then piled on Angels reliever Nick Maronde, who is likely to spend this summer at Triple-A Salt Lake City. Scott Hairston finished a four-run outburst with a home run that went to the back fence behind the left-field scoreboard, and the Cubs had a 6-5 lead.
Enter Carlos Marmol. If any scouts were watching Marmol Saturday afternoon, they likely sent a thumbs-down report to their employers. Marmol walked two, hit a batter, uncorked a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and might have given up more runs if Anthony Rizzo hadn't made a perfect throw to Steve Clevenger to get an Angels runner trying to score.
That left the game tied, and Clevenger led off the eighth with a double. Clevenger's bat has been solid; that left him hitting .378 (14-for-37 with four doubles) for the spring. I'm surprised Dale Sveum hasn't tried him in the infield, because the Cubs are still hoping to find a third base-type on the waiver wire before the spring is over. Could Clevenger be that guy? Maybe not, but why not at least try it?
Shawon Dunston Jr. got the nod from the minor-league camp Saturday and ran for Clevenger. Advancing to third on a groundout, he scored on a wild pitch from Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri, one of the few big-league players wearing Angels red in this game. Rafael Dolis got the call for the save, and despite giving up two singles, got it, helped out by a pickoff of J.B. Shuck, and the Cubs had a 7-6 win, their third straight.
Hisanori Takahashi was the other Cubs pitcher in this game. He didn't get charged with any runs to his record, but a double he allowed in the sixth scored the fifth Angels run. He got out of trouble in the seventh when Nate Schierholtz threw out Shuck trying to stretch a leadoff single into a double. Though he's got what might be the inside track to the last spot in the bullpen because he's lefthanded, the Cubs will probably still be looking around for bullpen help that might be available before the end of spring training a week from now.
So the Cubs even their spring record at 15-15, and they're one of the few teams that has not played a single tie game this spring (the Angels, by comparison, have four ties). Attendance watch: the announced crowd of 13,012 was noted as a sellout, though officially it was a few below official capacity (13,074). That makes the spring total attendance at HoHoKam 110,984 over 14 dates, an average of 7,927. There are three dates remaining; I understand the Cubs are expecting a near-sellout Monday with the Giants visiting Mesa.
I'm taking a break Sunday and not making the drive to Goodyear, where the Cubs will face the Indians; I need the day, and have already seen the Tribe twice this spring. Chris Rusin will face Ubaldo Jimenez and the game will be carried over WGN radio.