Randy Wells has had a mysterious year. He's made 31 starts; in 22 of them he has gone six or more innings, which is good. In two of them, he hasn't made it out of the second inning, including one in which he faced six batters and retired none of them. His ERA in those two starts is 49.50.
In his last two outings, however, he has been nothing short of outstanding; he now has allowed one earned run in his last 15.2 innings and none at all last night. When he ran out of gas in the eighth inning, Carlos Marmol came on for a four-out save and the Cubs shut out the Giants 2-0. That makes the Cubs' record in shutout games 11-12 (eleven shutouts, twelve times being shut out). It was their 88th quality start, tied with the Cardinals for fourth place, only two behind the Phillies, Astros and Giants, who are tied for the league lead with 90. Again, the quality start may not be the best measure of starting pitching (since it can result in a 4.50 ERA), but all teams are measured against the same standard.
It's been bullpen failure that has been the cause of a lot of losses for the Cubs earlier in the season, but last night, Marmol was lights-out (despite a walk issued to Pat Burrell on a close call). He needs one more strikeout to tie Bruce Sutter's 1977 club record for pitchers who threw exclusively in relief. Perhaps even more impressive, Marmol ranks 36th in the NL among all pitchers in strikeouts with 128. The next-ranked pitcher who has thrown exclusively in relief is the Nationals' Tyler Clippard -- who ranks 55th, with 26 fewer strikeouts and 13 more innings.
On a night where the weather couldn't have been more different from the previous night (Tuesday: sticky, humid and stormy; Wednesday: cool and clammy with a wind blowing off the lake), Kosuke Fukudome gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead with his 13th HR of the season in the third inning. Fukudome, who will play every day for the rest of the year with Tyler Colvin (who is out of the hospital and was driven home to South Carolina yesterday by his grandfather) out for the year, has had a solid September. I still think the Cubs should try to deal him -- because when Colvin comes back, they'll have the same issue they had this year, too many outfielders.
Or, if Fukudome is not traded, perhaps the next manager could use him the way Lou Piniella said he was going to use Colvin when the season began -- but then never did. In other words, use him to give the other three outfielders a day off once a week or so. It would give the Cubs the best fourth outfielder in the league, as Fukudome is a solid defender, and allow the next manager to spot him against pitchers he does better against -- although last night's HR was off a LHP, Fukudome's third off a LHP this season. Overall Fukudome is having his best year as a major leaguer: .274/.381/.455, and .282/.356/.564 in an admittedly small-sample-size 47 plate appearances vs. LHP. That is, however, a significant improvement over his performance last year vs. LHP: .164/.277/.255 in 67 plate appearances (only one HR).
There were more people in the house at Wrigley last night than the previous night; the paid attendance was announced as a few hundred more, but the bleachers in particular were more populated. The boost was, apparently, because of sales to a few groups in attendance; the bleachers appeared about half full and there may have been 25,000 in the house, not bad for a cool school night with the Cubs eliminated from contention.
The Cubs' win pushed the Giants into second place in both the wild card and NL West races by half a game, with the Cubs still having five games left against the top two clubs in the west (tonight, and four next week at San Diego). Despite winning only two of six games so far vs. the Giants, they have played them tough (all four losses have been by one run).
A reminder: tonight's game begins an hour earlier than usual for a home night game, 6:05 CDT. With thunderstorms in tonight's forecast, that might just be a good thing.