MESA, Arizona -- Remember a couple of days ago when I wrote that the Padres and Giants were the only two Cactus League teams that had not yet played a tie game this spring?
One down, one to go: the Cubs and Padres played to a 2-2 tie at Mesa today, the Cubs' third tie this week. There's plenty of good news from this game regardless, so let's get to it before I give you my take on today's trade of Andres Blanco to the Rangers and other possible roster machinations.
Was I a little bit ahead of schedule discussing the season attendance for the Cubs this morning? Maybe, but the HoHoKam Park single-game attendance record was broken this afternoon when 13,462 was announced as the paid crowd. It fell 45 people short of breaking the Cactus League record set last Saturday night at Camelback Ranch in this Padres/Dodgers game. The four largest crowds in Cactus League history have now occurred in the last ten days -- three of them involving the Cubs, two of those in road games. Today's attendance brought the season total to 124,463 and the per-game average to 11,315. It's my understanding that the three remaining games at HoHoKam Park are all sellouts.
Strikeouts were the name of today's game -- the two clubs' pitching staffs combined for 22 strikeouts, seven of them from the Padres' Clayton Richard. Richard threw well, but Tyler Colvin solved him for a home run in the fifth inning, which briefly gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The Padres scored a pair off Carlos Silva in the top of the sixth, the second a gift when Geovany Soto flung an attempted caught-stealing throw to third base into left field. (The run wound up earned one out later when Logan Forsythe singled.) Silva again threw well, keeping the ball down and throwing strikes (no walks) and getting six ground-ball outs. It would have been more had Mike Fontenot not bobbled a grounder in the first and made another routine grounder into an infield single. He did make a nice diving stab of a Matt Antonelli line drive -- extending himself about as far as someone who's listed as (ahem!) 5-8 can leap.
Which brings me to the trade of Blanco. I think the Cubs will regret this deal. Andres Blanco is the best defensive middle infielder the team had. Fontenot really isn't a shortstop, and it's been made very clear that Ryan Theriot wears down and needs days off; right now the only way to accomplish that is to give Fontenot starts there. That will be OK offensively -- Fontenot appears to be recovered with the bat from last year, hitting .347 this spring -- but at what cost defensively? The Cubs may wind up in the market for a middle infielder midseason -- or may have to recall Darwin Barney. I'm happy for Blanco, who will be a solid backup for the Rangers' Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus (and may get some early season playing time with Kinsler nursing an injury).
Tyler Colvin has apparently made the team with his torrid spring; the four hits today bring his spring average to .475. And those same four hits leave his OBA at... .475, because he has not drawn a single walk in 32 plate appearances. Colvin has talent and can play all three OF positions -- but not as well as Sam Fuld, who, in my opinion, is much better suited to the bench role than Colvin is. If Colvin is going to get frequent starts, then this might work out OK. But to expect a guy who has never played Triple-A ball to start once a week and pinch-hit and be successful? Call this "Micah Hoffpauir Syndrome".
The question of whether Kevin Millar will make the club -- still open. Millar played left field today, and with the type of shoes he was wearing and the high socks, he looked like he had dressed to play in an Old Timers game, and that's the way he ran, chugging after balls into the left field corner. He really can't be expected to play the outfield any more. A couple of years ago, Millar would have been a fine idea. Now? Not so much, especially because Chad Tracy is much more needed for his versatility. Maybe Millar will go to Iowa to be injury insurance.
The bench, then, appears to be: Koyie Hill, Xavier Nady (who'll get his first OF start tomorrow vs. the Mariners), Colvin, Tracy and whoever doesn't start at 2B (Fontenot or Jeff Baker). Offensively, that's a solid bench. In the field? Not so much.
Carlos Marmol threw better today, walking the first hitter he faced but then retiring the rest of the Padres hitters in order, including a sweet-looking slider to end the ninth inning. The rest of the Cubs pen today (Esmailin Caridad, Jeff Stevens and minor leaguer Brian Schlitter, who Lou seems to love to give work) also looked solid.
Ryan Dempster goes for the Cubs tomorrow against the Mariners' Ryan Rowland-Smith. It says here that [name redacted] "probably will get Sunday off and spend his day taking extra batting practice".