I was wishing for several things this afternoon, and got pretty much all my wishes; the main ones were:
- A quickly played game, with rain bearing down on Chicago, and
- A Cubs victory
Got both of those, and in fine fashion, too, as the rain held off and the Cubs won their fifth straight game, 7-2 over the Diamondbacks.
Credit where credit is due: Scott Hairston came to bat after Alfonso Soriano had been walked intentionally in order to face him and made the D'backs pay by smacking his third career grand slam into the left-field bleachers, giving the Cubs a 6-0 lead. Hairston has probably benefitted by more consistent playing time last week and this week; since May 23 he's now 5-for-13 with that home run and five RBI. Good for him; I'd love to see him keep this going and prove me wrong about him being "done".
Soriano had homered in the first inning with David DeJesus on base, a lazy fly ball that rode the wind currents into the basket in left field about a section over from ours. Of all the home runs hit on very windy days Thursday and Friday, Hairston's was about the only one that didn't need help from the wind. You have probably already heard; if you haven't, this was the first time the Cubs had hit slams in back-to-back games since Sammy Sosa did it on July 27-28, 1998, also against the D'backs, and first at Wrigley since September 15, 1972 (Jim Hickman) and September 16, 1972 (Burt Hooton, mentioned yesterday), both against the Mets.
Meanwhile, Matt Garza was mowing down D'backs hitters; he ran into trouble only in the sixth inning, where three hits produced a pair of runs. Otherwise Garza looked dominant in posting his first win of the 2013 season. Garza also came up to bat twice with a runner on base; had he been able to loft a fly ball into the seats (something Cubs pitchers have been doing quite a bit lately, as you know), Cubs pitchers would have broken the MLB record for RBI by pitchers in a calendar month. Instead, Garza reverted to typical pitcher form and struck out all three times he batted. Cubs pitchers now have 45 K's in 103 at-bats, 43.6 percent, which is almost precisely the ratio for all MLB pitchers.
A couple of other things of note: Cody Ransom added the final Cubs run of the day with his fourth home run of the season. Apparently, the magic pixie dust sprinkled on Ransom when he put on Cubs pinstripes has not yet worn off. And the Cubs had an extreme shift on when Jason Kubel led off the seventh inning; Kubel lofted a soft line drive which would have been a single in a normal defensive alignment, but Darwin Barney was nearly perfectly positioned; he had to wheel back a bit to make a slick catch.
The other story of the game was the extremely small crowd; obviously, the threat of rain kept some people away, but the announced tickets-sold total of 24,645 was the smallest of the season -- in fact, the smallest since April 26, 2002, when 23,686 paid to see a Cubs/Dodgers game on a chilly April Friday. Maybe 18,000 were in the house to see Friday's win.
As has been said many times before: No team is as bad as it looks on a long losing streak (well, maybe except this year's Marlins, who have lost nine straight and are on pace to win 39 games this year), and no team is as good as it looks on a long winning streak. But the Cubs are now putting together solid offense to go along with continued excellence from the rotation, and also good bullpen work. The five-run win puts their run differential at +11, while the D'backs are now at +17. Are the Cubs as good a team as Arizona, who inhabits first place in the N.L. West? Probably not, but if they keep this up, this year's Cubs team might even sneak close to .500 -- which would be a significant improvement.
Saturday, the teams meet again as one of Fox's regional games, and Jeff Samardzija, who threw the best game of his career Monday, will face Ian Kennedy. Six in a row? Hey, why not?