Go figure, right?
Just one day after the Cubs played what was probably their worst game of 2013, they play one of their best, a 3-0 shutout of the likely playoff-bound Cardinals. How rare was that?
It had been 16 years since they last shut out the Cardinals in St. Louis, also 3-0, on June 23, 1997. The 1997 Cubs weren't very good (and neither were the '97 Cardinals), but they managed to blank their division rivals... and this year's version held a much better edition of the Cardinals scoreless; the 2013 Cardinals entered Friday's game leading the National League in runs scored by a significant margin.
Not only that, but Chris Rusin became the first Cubs lefthander to throw at least six shutout innings in St. Louis since Ken Holtzman did it September 19, 1979, the final start of Holtzman's career (seven scoreless by Holtzman that day). That speaks, unfortunately, to the lack of good lefthanded pitching the Cubs have had over the last 35 years.
Rusin is starting to look like he might be a keeper. He doesn't have great velocity, but he appears to have learned command and how to keep hitters off balance. Think of him as a Jamie Moyer type; Rusin and Moyer are similar physical types (Rusin's a bit taller) and Moyer, of course, had a long and successful career. I'm not saying Rusin is going to do that, but he certainly looks like he could take over the No. 5 spot in the Cubs' rotation, even for a future contending version of the team.
Meanwhile, Lance Lynn was matching scoreless frames with Rusin until the seventh inning, when the Cubs scored all three of their runs. After Welington Castillo led off with a walk, Starlin Castro bunted. It didn't look like a sacrifice attempt; Castro was at first ruled safe as he dived out of the way of a tag, but the umpires conferred and (apparently) called him out for being out of the baseline. Here's the video; you make the call. (My view: could have been called either way. This is why we need replay review.)
That's the kind of play where you think, "Uh-oh. Cubs had a real chance to have a decent inning, and now they're going to blow it." That's where they surprised me, and probably you, by putting together a nice rally even after that call. Darwin Barney walked and Logan Watkins struck out. Two out, and you're feeling even worse about the Castro call.
But Junior Lake broke the scoreless tie with an RBI single, and after Cole Gillespie was hit by a pitch, Anthony Rizzo drove in two runs to give the Cubs a cushion. It was a nicely-done rally, and Rizzo's single was off a lefthander. After hitting lefties well early in the year, Rizzo has struggled against them lately, so that was nice to see.
The Cubs' pen held the Cardinals without a hit and with only one baserunner (a walk) over the last three innings, and Gillespie made a nice catch on a fly ball that looked like it was getting away from him for the final out. Credit where credit is due: Castro also made several nice defensive plays Friday night.
Kevin Gregg thus posted his 24th save, one more than he had for the Cubs in his, and the team's, ill-fated 2009 season. With the market for relief pitchers for contending teams seemingly quiet, Gregg is probably going to be a Cub for the rest of 2013; if he gets to 30 saves, now a real possibility, it would be just the 17th 30-save season in Cubs history. Gregg's 47 Cub career saves ranks 10th on the all-time team list; next up is Mitch Williams with 52.
The Cubs might have caught the Cardinals at exactly the right time. St. Louis is in a tailspin, now having lost 12 of their last 16 games. It's not impossible for the Cubs to contemplate a series win. They'll continue Saturday night, with Carlos Villanueva facing Michael Wacha.