We've had a lot to complain about so far this season -- lack of hitting with RISP, fielding blunders, bad bullpen work -- so it's my pleasure to present to you a recap of a Cubs baseball game that has absolutely nothing for the complaint department.
Solid starting pitching, good defense, timely hitting (two out, nobody on base resulting in two runs, no less) and relief pitching the way it's supposed to work resulted in a 2-1 Cubs win over the Cardinals, despite the Cubs managing just five hits.
One of those hits was a laser beam of a two-run homer by Nate Schierholtz after Alfonso Soriano had singles... and both of those came after Lance Lynn had struck out the first two batters of the fourth inning. This was the second day in a row that a Cubs team had forged what turned out to be the game-winning rally beginning with two out and nobody on base.
Meanwhile, Travis Wood made just one mistake, and Allen Craig crushed it for a solo shot that gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Wood worked his way out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fourth by striking out Lynn, and then with two out in the seventh and no one on base, Dale Sveum came to the mound to get Wood.
I dunno. It was the logical thing to do with Wood having thrown 114 pitches and the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran due up; historically Beltran doesn't have any real platoon advantage. Sveum was booed, the crowd knowing Carlos Marmol was coming in. The boos turned to cheers for Wood -- maybe Marmol thought they were for him? -- and then boos again when Marmol's name was announced.
Beltran singled. (Existential question: is that better or worse than Marmol walking the first batter he faces?) But then Marmol got out of the inning by getting Matt Holliday to hit a lazy fly ball to center field. Progress, I suppose. Baby steps. Marmol got himself in trouble in the eighth with a single by Yadier Molina and a walk to Jon Jay, putting the tying run in scoring position with two out.
For some reason Molina, who normally is one of the smartest players in the game, decided to take off for third base. He had been dancing around between second and third on the previous pitch to Pete Kozma, which Kozma had fouled off. That got Marmol's attention, and when Molina raced toward third on the next pitch, Marmol threw him out easily.
The Cubs' scrap-heap closer, Kevin Gregg, retired the side 1-2-3 in the ninth inning for his fifth save. Gregg hasn't allowed a run in eight appearances covering 7⅓ innings and has allowed just six baserunners (three hits, three walks) for a WHIP of 0.818. This is the sort of thing we were hoping to get frequently in 2009: the right fielder hitting a game-winning home run, and Marmol setting up Gregg for a save.
It might not mean much in the context of this season, but beating the Cardinals is always satisfying. And Wood has now thrown at least six innings in all seven of his starts. It's still early in the season, but Wood appears to have continued the progress he looked like he was making in the last two months of 2012. He's 26. If he keeps doing this, Theo and Jed will have made another excellent trade, reaping a quality starting pitcher (and a player, Ronald Torreyes, who's still a prospect) in exchange for a reliever they weren't going to keep.
The announced crowd of 30,161 was one of the smallest for any Cubs/Cardinals game in recent years; only one last September (29,100 on a wet September Friday) had been that small since 1998. There was still a vocal minority of Cardinals fans, but they were mostly silent following Craig's home run.
So the Cubs have a chance for a .500 homestand and a sweep of this abbreviated two-game set Wednesday afternoon when Carlos Villanueva goes against Jake Westbrook. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CDT.