Funny thing. I happened to be looking through the Cubs' individual statistics for 2014 Monday afternoon before I left for Wrigley Field.
One thing caught my eye -- the fact that, going into Monday night's game, Cubs pitchers were a collective 1-for-29 with 17 strikeouts.
That's pretty bad. So I was thinking about revving up my DH-in-the-National-League argument again.
I suppose I'd better shelve that idea after Travis Wood singlehandedly led the Cubs to a 5-1 win over the Diamondbacks. And "singlehandedly" isn't too much of an overstatement. Wood's pitching was outstanding -- seven innings, a career-high-tying nine strikeouts, and until Mark Trumbo smashed a home run to deep center field in the seventh inning when Wood was clearly running out of gas, just four singles allowed. Wood gave up a double after the home run, but Rick(y) Renteria allowed him to finish the seventh, one of the best outings by a Cubs hurler this year.
And then there was Wood's offense. His three-run homer (the seventh of his career, sixth as a Cub) in the second inning would have been enough by itself to win the game, but Travis wasn't done. He doubled in a run in the fourth and had the D'backs so scared that they actually changed pitchers when he came up to bat with the bases loaded in the sixth. Wood had two mighty swings and misses at Putz fastballs and then hit into an inning-ending double play, a highly-entertaining at-bat.
That was about the only thing Wood did wrong Monday night, an outstanding game for him, and for the team as well. Welington Castillo and Ryan Kalish each had two hits; Starlin Castro added a single and also drew a four-pitch walk, something fairly rare for him.
It wasn't difficult to see why the Diamondbacks are off to such a bad start. Their offense was more pathetic than the Cubs' has been in recent days and even Bronson Arroyo, a Cub-killer from way back, couldn't stop Cubs bats Monday night.
The game began just over an hour late due to rainshowers that dotted the Chicago area in the early evening. At least on the North Side, none of them was very heavy, but the tarp was on the field from about 4:30 until just after 7:00, cancelling batting practice for both teams.
A bit of unintentional levity happened with two out in the ninth inning and Pedro Strop about to put the finishing flourish on this win, perhaps the best-played game by the Cubs all year. Strop threw a pitch that bounced near Miguel Montero's feet, nearly hitting him. Montero took exception to this and took a couple of steps toward the mound. Before anyone could spill out of the dugouts or the bullpens, plate umpire D.J. Reyburn and Castillo calmed Montero down. Reyburn then warned both benches. Really? With two out in the ninth?
I suppose that's part of Kirk Gibson's "grit" as manager of the D'backs. They'll need more than that to win games, though. In some ways, it's surprising that the D'backs are this bad. They have good hitters -- Paul Goldschmidt had three singles, and Trumbo has notable power -- but for some reason, haven't been able to score runs. Maybe they need more "grit," I dunno.
And who says baseball teams can't finish games in under three hours? This one cleared that bar easily, ending in a snappy two hours, 40 minutes, well-paced. It was the fastest game at Wrigley Field so far this year, played in front of maybe a third of the announced 32,439. Most of the rest either stayed home due to the weather, or were elsewhere watching the Blackhawks' win over the Blues.
The Cubs and D'backs will go at it again Tuesday night, with Jason Hammel facing Brandon McCarthy. The rain has moved out of the area, to be replaced by chilly temperatures. Perhaps motivation to get out of the cold will have the players playing at a swift pace again Tuesday evening.