Before I begin the recap of the Cubs' 2-1 win over the Giants that gave them a sweep of this three-game series, I must correct an error I made in the recap of last night's game. I wrote that the Cubs had last swept the Giants in a three-game series in San Francisco in 1977, but I had missed in my research a three-game set swept by the Cubs at Candlestick Park in 1993. That was over a Giants team that would go on to win 103 games, but miss the playoffs. Current Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies pitched briefly for that team; he was the losing pitcher in one of those games.
Still, 20 years. That's a long time, and it's been eight years since the Cubs swept a series on the West Coast (over the Dodgers in May 2005), and it's their first sweep on the road since last September 7-8-9 at Pittsburgh (that one, I'm sure of).
Travis Wood almost did it all by himself; he threw seven innings and gave up just one unearned run, thanks to a Luis Valbuena error. Wood also homered and gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The unearned run came after the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out, in part due to that error. (If you're a Giants fan, you're probably averting your eyes at that situation after Saturday night's failures.)
Valbuena redeemed his error by starting a nice double play; a ball hit right to him resulted in a force when he stepped on third, and Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, on third base, hesitated when running, and Valbuena was able to throw to Welington Castillo for the tag play. Pablo Sandoval then doubled in a run to tie the game, but Buster Posey stopped at third (he'd have been out if he had tried to score) and Wood got out of the inning by striking out Hunter Pence.
Castillo then gave the Cubs the lead with his third homer of the year. That ties him with Wood, whose third homer gave him the most in a season for a Cubs pitcher since Carlos Zambrano hit four in 2009. Cubs pitchers have hit five of the 17 home runs that major-league pitchers have hit this year. Yes, I still think the DH would be better... but give lots of credit to Cubs pitchers for their batting prowess in 2013. Wood is hitting .293 with a .537 slugging percentage.
Pedro Strop decided to do it the easy way Sunday instead of the hard way, giving up a harmless single in one scoreless inning, and Kevin Gregg finished up with an easy inning, walking one and registering his first strikeout in his last seven appearances for his 22nd save, just one fewer than he had in the 2009 season in Chicago that turned out to be such a disappointment. Gregg's Cub total of 45 saves broke a tie with, of all people, Joe Borowski for 10th place on the all-time Cubs save list. Next is Mitch Williams with 52, but somehow I doubt Gregg's going to get there -- it seems likely he'll be traded before Wednesday afternoon's deadline.
The Cubs improved to seven games under .500 with the win, the first time they've been that close to .500 since May 19. Meanwhile, the Giants, for their part, looked like anything but defending World Series champions. They looked, in fact, like last year's Cubs. Been there, done that, don't want to go back.
Part of this is because winning is always easy to root for, but this has become a very likeable team -- and it was even before Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano were jettisoned. They seem to be a more cohesive unit than last year's -- even with all the roster moves and DFAs -- and now that Dale Sveum has a couple of reliable bullpen arms, even his bullpen management seems improved. One thing is for sure with Sveum, these players play hard for him. Whether he's the manager to take the Cubs to the next level remains to be seen, but I like what I see, and the last three games have been among the most enjoyable in the Ricketts Era.