When Edwin Jackson was signed to a four-year, $52 million deal before the 2013 season, Cubs fans knew (or should have, anyway) that we weren't getting a top-of-the-rotation starter, but at least someone who could keep his team in games, and who had some postseason experience.
It didn't work out that way; Jackson has been just about the worst starter in the major leagues in 2013... until Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field, when he helped lead the Cubs to a 4-1 win over the Pirates, salvaging one game of a three-game series.
Jackson was on all afternoon, throwing strikes -- eight K's -- and even though he gave up a run in the fourth, wasn't seriously challenged after that. This is the Jackson we thought we were getting. If he keeps pitching this way, the Cubs will have a solid rotation top-to-bottom. (If only the rest of the team could match that solid performance.) In fact, Jackson probably could have gone farther into the game, since he finished seven innings in a very efficient 91 pitches (averaging 13 per inning, well below the MLB average of 16). Even with Ryan Sweeney leading off the seventh with a single -- making it an obvious bunt situation -- Dale Sveum called on Julio Borbon to bunt. That didn't work, as Borbon bunted into a force play.
Fortunately, Cody Ransom came to the rescue of the Cubs offensively Sunday afternoon. Yes, that's right. I still can't figure out Ransom, who has played 11 big-league seasons and has just one of those years with more than 80 at-bats (last year). Today, he came up big-time. I want to give him special credit for heads-up baserunning in the sixth inning, before the Cubs even had a hit in the game (despite a ton of walks drawn off Pirates starter Jeff Locke).
Ransom led off the sixth with a walk, the Cubs' sixth off Locke. Anthony Rizzo grounded to the right side, a ball that second baseman Neil Walker couldn't make a DP attempt on Ransom at second base with. When Jones made the play, both his back and Locke's were to Ransom, and they had some kind of brain freeze, because neither one of them saw Ransom racing to third. That heads-up baserunning led to the Cubs' first run, when, after yet another walk, Scott Hairston lofted a ball to deep center field, scoring a run, while the Cubs were still trying to break up Locke's no-hitter. That happened one batter later, when Dioner Navarro smacked a sharp single to left.
Ransom then delivered the game-winning hit after the Borbon failed bunt; Darwin Barney singled and Ransom slammed a three-run homer into the first row of the left-field bleachers.
That's six home runs for Ransom in 73 plate appearances since he joined the Cubs; he's hitting .277/.347/.631 in a Cubs uniform. The six homers is more than the following players in 2013, all of whom have more than 250 PA this year: Manny Machado, Dustin Pedroia, Allen Craig, Ben Zobrist and Jacoby Ellsbury, and as many as Joe Mauer and Alex Gordon.
You figure it out. I can't.
Here's another thing impossible to figure: the last two outings of Carlos Marmol. (That could make a good horror movie title, right? "The Last Two Outings Of Carlos Marmol.") This time, it took him one more pitch than Friday to post a 1-2-3 inning. I figured the eighth should have been James Russell's inning -- since he didn't throw Saturday -- and was getting ready to write another "Dale Sveum can't handle the bullpen" diatribe. But Marmol did well. Kevin Gregg, in his first save opp in almost a month (May 12 was his last before Sunday), gave up a couple of hits, but was saved from scoring a run by Navarro, who threw Andrew McCutchen out trying to steal second. Gregg posted his seventh save in seven opportunities, and the Cubs had their first win over the Pirates since April on a coolish day when, thankfully, earlier-forecast rain held off.
I've been spending some time tweeting #jinx when visiting pitchers are working on no-hitters in the middle innings (worked like a charm the last two days). Now that the Cubs have the all-time no-no-hit streak, I'd love to see it continue indefinitely. Sunday was Game No. 7,561 in the streak. (You're welcome, CubsNoHitStreak.)
Nice game, well played and executed in just about every way a baseball team can. Now do it again, say, eight or ten more times in a row.