I'm going to credit the presence of 97-year-old Lennie Merullo and several generations of his family at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon for the Cubs' 5-2 win over the Marlins, their fifth consecutive victory.
Not really, of course -- Lennie threw out a first pitch, led the seventh-inning stretch and watched most of the game from a mezzanine suite. It was the Cubs players on the field who outperformed the Marlins on a pleasant, though overcast afternoon.
Nevertheless, the presence at Wrigley Field of the last living human being to play for the Cubs in a World Series was one of many highlights of a nice afternoon at the ballpark.
Emilio Bonifacio got the scoring going with a two-run homer after Jeff Samardzija singled in the third inning. That's Bonifacio's first homer of the year and you'd better savor it because it's probably the only one he'll hit this year. It's the 11th of a career that now spans 2,544 plate appearances, and a guy with a .340 career slugging percentage isn't likely to hit many long balls, even at a hitter-friendly park like Wrigley Field.
That kind of thing should be left to guys like Junior Lake. Junior Lake? Yes, Junior Lake, who posted the second multi-homer game of his career (he also did it August 1, 2013 against the Dodgers' Ricky Nolasco). Lake, who hit six homers in 236 at-bats last year, now has eight in 180 this year. Perhaps more regular playing time is getting him in a groove. He never hit for much long-ball power in the minor leagues; his high for any single season there was 12, in 2011, split between High-A and Double-A.
But I could see a guy like Lake maybe hitting 20 homers this year, and that's worth playing him nearly every day, even with all the strikeouts. Here's Junior's first homer:
And here's the second:
(Thanks again to ubercubsfan for the GIFs.)
Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro provided most of the rest of the offense, with two hits each. Castro's were both doubles. Darwin Barney also had a pair of hits and until he grounded out to end the bottom of the eighth, his batting average had touched the Mendoza Line briefly (.200 on the nose), something worth noting because he hadn't been there at all since he was 3-for-15 earlier this year. Does this mean Barney's come out of a two-year hitting slump? Not sure, but in his last 12 games, he's now 8-for-30 (.267) with four doubles. He might have earned himself more playing time.
Samardzija was solid. He allowed a pair of runs, one on a homer by Christian Yelich that gave the Marlins a brief 1-0 lead, the other in the sixth on a double by Giancarlo Stanton (his first hit in the series after starting it 0-for-8 with six K's) and a single by Garrett Jones. Jones' reward for that RBI hit was getting double-switched out of the game. Shark ended up with eight strikeouts and a win, his second of the year. Wesley Wright, Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop (second save) finished up uneventfully. The bullpen has been quite good over this homestand and that's one of the biggest reasons for the five-game winning streak.
Which could continue Sunday as Jake Arrieta faces Henderson Alvarez. If the Cubs do win Sunday, they will accomplish something that hasn't been done in more than six years -- sweep a homestand of six games or longer. May 26-June 1, 2008 was the last such homestand sweep, three games over the Dodgers and four over the Rockies. This team seems full of surprises this season, so how about another one?
Finally, I got to spend some time with Lennie Merullo and his family before and during Saturday's game. I've got lots to tell, but want to save it for a separate article that will post Sunday morning. Suffice to say that Lennie is full of life at 97 and it was a thrill for him and his family to make the trip to Wrigley. More to come tomorrow.