MILWAUKEE -- Driving back from the Cheese State, under a slate-gray sky with no leaves on the trees making the landscape look more like November than April, it occurred to me this:
The Cubs lost to the Brewers 9-4, and on the surface that doesn't look very good, and of course a loss is never good at all.
But think about this: a year ago, if the Cubs had gone down 4-0 after two innings, and 6-0 after five, would they have made any sort of comeback, as they did today?
Hell no -- last year's team would have been up there hacking at everything in sight, to try to make the team bus back to Chicago that much quicker. Instead, this team clawed its way back into the game against Chris Capuano -- who looked nearly unhittable the first four innings -- and made a 6-4 game of it before Scott Eyre got lit up in the 8th inning, allowing a bases-clearing triple to that pest Craig Counsell (I still can't figure out how that guy hits with the bat 10 feet in the air, can you?), a ball that was nearly caught for an inning-ending double play by Derrek Lee.
So even in defeat there is cause for optimism, I think. Causes for optimism today: Neal Cotts, Michael Wuertz and Will Ohman threw the ball really well and kept the game close until the 8th. Lee kept up his hot early-season hitting, singling and doubling; Ryan Theriot looked more comfortable playing both RF and LF (and I give kudos to Lou Piniella for, in a double-switch, giving him needed time in both fields, although Matt Murton could use the at-bats, too). Ronny Cedeno came up with the bases loaded and had a chance to be a difference-maker. He didn't, but at least he had a good at-bat before he put the bat on the ball and flied to left. Last year, he'd have meekly struck out.
Bad today: Wade Miller. He had no velocity (only one pitch on the scoreboard pitch meter registered even 88 MPH) and his arm angle looked like it was dropping down. I was sitting, as you may have seen in the comments, with Jeff & Mark (BCB readers bh714 and bison, for those who don't know them personally), and both of them agreed with me that Miller had absolutely nothing; Mark was at the game in Scottsdale on March 24 at which Miller had dominated the Giants, and we both agreed that it looked like a completely different guy who was on the mound today. More bad today: Mark DeRosa, who's been so good up to now, had a really bad day, striking out four times (two called), and looking completely lost at the plate, and missing a couple of grounders Miller induced that could have been turned into outs with better defensive positioning.
Obviously, one start isn't indicative of an entire season, and I'm sure Lou Piniella isn't going to pull Miller out of the rotation after this one start. But he bears watching, because if this keeps up, some choices are going to have to be made.
The crowd at Miller Park was much smaller than either of the first two days of the series, likely due to the Easter holiday, only 28,019 this afternoon, still about half Cubs fans. I also got a chance to meet BCB reader Chris, who was at the entire series. Nice to meet you, my friend.
The temperature inside was quite comfortable; I was glad to be on the 200 level, because my friends Tom & Ginger, who I ran into just walking around the lower level, said that some people who were sitting near the entry doors were freezing on the 100 level because with the doors opening and closing all the time, the 34-degree outside air kept coming in. Other than that, Miller Park is the same as it was a year ago, no changes that I could see; I will tell you that I found (thanks to Howard) a new shortcut to get to the park, and no, I'm not going to post it here. If any of you are driving up I-94 to the next Cub series in Milwaukee in June, email me privately and I'll tell you -- as long as you don't post it anywhere public!
I was particularly heartened by the fact that after the three-run Brewer rally in the last of the 8th, the Cubs didn't completely quit, as often is the case when a close game is made a blowout in the late innings; they actually drew two walks in the 9th, giving some ultimately meaningless hope with Derrek Lee at bat -- he got called out on strikes on a pitch that didn't seem that close, but with a five-run margin and the game having passed the three-hour mark, the umpires were probably ready to leave town.
As were the Cubs, with what must be considered a successful road trip -- 3-3 on a season-opening trip against two teams that have good offenses (despite what Carlos Zambrano said yesterday, the Brewers ARE a good-hitting team, and they proved it today), getting in general good starting pitching, is a good base to build on.
If you're going tomorrow, here's my advice: put on as many layers as you think you need. Then stop and put MORE layers on. The forecast:
We've had worse. Can't wait to get back to the ballpark.