Today's game clearly shows the difference between a good team and a bad team, particularly the seventh inning of the Cubs' 7-2, come-from-behind win over the Astros.
The Cubs sent ten men to bat in that inning and scored six runs, yet the entire inning hinged on two plays:
- The Astros had Alfonso Soriano picked off second base, yet failed to convert it into an out; it resulted in a SB given to Soriano, and he scored two batters later when Ryan Theriot pushed a perfect bunt down the first base line with the bases loaded.
- The 2-2 pitch, very close, that was called ball three on Derrek Lee; D-Lee smashed the next pitch for the three-run homer that put the game away.
Good teams take advantage of breaks like this and the Cubs, I believe, are a good team. Wins like this, over teams that are clearly not very good like the Astros, help build confidence and maybe lead to long winning streaks. And this series is sweepable -- the Astros, in going to 1-9, have been outscored 52-21 and this is the seventh time in their ten games in which they've scored two or fewer runs. Carlos Lee is off to a horrid start, hitting .103, and the only other legitimate major leaguer on the field today for them was Hunter Pence. I wouldn't be surprised if the Astros try to move Lee's contract at the All-Star break; if he starts hitting, some AL contender might take the last 2.5 years of that deal and make him a fulltime DH.
Back to the Cubs now -- so, are you sold on Carlos Silva yet? He was outstanding today, throwing seven solid innings in which he threw fewer pitches than his countryman Carlos Zambrano threw in four yesterday. He gave up two unearned runs, walked nobody, struck out four and registered seven other outs on ground balls. He'd likely have given up no runs if Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome could have gotten their calls straight in the fourth inning; it appeared to me that Fukudome had called for Pence's fly ball to right center first, but Byrd waved him off and then the two nearly collided, with the ball dropping out of Byrd's glove for an error.
The CF, of course, is supposed to take charge on those plays, but if the other outfielder calls first, I think the CF needs to give way. The two of them need to work on this. Fukudome then let a ball get under his glove for a triple, scoring a run, and a single by Tommy Manzella later, the Astros had a 2-1 lead; the Cubs had scored first when the two unlikeliest players to get extra-base hits, Koyie Hill (triple) and Silva (double) had them back-to-back.
Silva is pitching with more confidence in every start and looks like he can give the Cubs fifth-starter production at the very least; at the moment he's the staff leader with a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings, and is the only member of the Cubs rotation who hasn't issued a single walk. I never expected him to be this good, and he'll probably have his bad outings over the course of the year. But it appears the Cubs got good value in that trade, along with some salary relief. Give Jim Hendry some credit (and a little luck).
On another nice day (62 degrees at game time with a stiff breeze blowing from the northwest), 37,291 was the paid attendance. That makes the season average after four dates 39,047. For comparison's sake, Jessica, here are the averages after four dates for the last six years:
2009: 39,649 2008: 39,085 2007: 38,294 2006: 39,400 2005: 38,626 2004: 39,769
The average of those six is 39,137 -- so this year's number would be right in line with the years after 2003, when ticket sales really took off. Just as I figured. I'll be collecting my Super Big Gulp in the next homestand.
I also met one of the new "Ambassadors", working at Wrigley Field for the first time this year, a retired gentleman who is among 20 people who have taken these jobs so far. They walk around the park just ... well, kind of being "ambassadors" for the team, helping kids, people with problems, also going to the L stop to help direct people to the ballpark. He said they are likely going to be hiring more people and they have hired from all age groups and both men and women.
Nice win -- let's keep it up tomorrow. And, finally, GO BLACKHAWKS!