MESA, Arizona -- 24 hours ago, I wouldn't have given today's game much of a chance of being played; the forecasts were for showers and thunderstorms all afternoon.
Maybe the weather folks were playing an early April Fool's joke on us. While a few clouds passed overhead and the weather was much cooler, no rain fell and bright sunshine warmed the windy afternoon. There was an audible gasp among the gathering of 10,005 at HoHoKam Park today when PA announcer Tim Sheridan, as is his custom, announced the game-time temperature in Mesa and Chicago. Today, it was 65 in Mesa, 83 in Chicago. Today's crowd brought the spring total to 152,493 in 14 dates, or an average of 10,892. That's down about 9% from 2008 (which is a better comparison than 2009, a year that had many more dates due to the WBC). There are several reasons for this: the recession, very cold weather the first full week of games, and the lack of weekend dates.
The wind was blowing in from the LF corner most of the day, but that didn't stop Alfonso Soriano's two-run homer in the sixth inning, the only runs of the day in a 2-0 shutout of the Rockies, the team's second shutout win this week. The homer landed about 25 feet in front of me, but bounced away and I didn't see who got it. Soriano had his best hitting day of the spring, going 3-for-3 to raise his spring average to .278. Sori has always been a streak hitter -- you know this well if you have followed him closely during his three Cub seasons -- going stone cold and looking awful at times, then having stretches of a week or two when he hits everything in sight. He still looked tentative on the bases (after his two singles) and in the field today, but it looks like the hitting stroke is there.
Carlos Silva threw well again. Pitching to contact, he struck out only one and walked nobody; among the six hits he allowed, five were singles and one was an infield hit by Ryan Spilborghs, after which Silva was removed for Carlos Marmol. Marmol looked good; Spilborghs was caught stealing and then Marmol struck out Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, two of the better hitters in the National League. That's a really good tuneup for starting the season.
Cubs pitchers scattered ten hits in all today, getting the benefit of these fielding plays: the caught-stealing mentioned above by Koyie Hill (who entered the game replacing Geovany Soto in the fourth inning just so he could catch Silva, who he had not caught this spring), a nice throwout by Kosuke Fukudome of Seth Smith trying to stretch a single into a double, another throw by Fukudome after a popup dropped among three Cubs, turning into a force play at second base, and a game-ending 5-4-3 double play started by Chad Tracy. Nice to have a legitimate backup third baseman, isn't it? Tracy replaced Aramis Ramirez after A-Ram was hit by Jeff Francis on a 1-2 pitch in the fourth. I assume Aramis is OK and that was just a precaution.
The Cubs will stay in the Valley to play a pair against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, one tomorrow evening, one Saturday afternoon. I'll be at both games; after those end I will have seen every team in the Cactus League play except the Brewers. And honestly, I haven't seen any team that I think is superior to the Cubs. The Cubs have flaws, absolutely, and they are well known -- the kids in the bullpen have to step up, in particular. But the other clubs all have flaws, too. I have no doubt that this team can contend in the NL Central and, as Tom Ricketts said in this cubs.com article, if there's a part the Cubs need and can go after in midseason, they can probably go for it.
Enjoy the brief break until the first night game of 2010 tomorrow.