What can you say about a game where your starting pitcher puts up his second good start in a row and gives up just two runs?
Wait, I promised no more rhetorical questions starting posts. Well, not a promise, really, but a note that a streak of three straight posts with that start ended this morning.
There's not much more you can say about a game like this. Ryan Dempster gave up a run on a single, groundout and single and then grooved one to Drew Stubbs three innings later; the ball, deposited in the left field bleachers, went off the leg of someone working bleacher security. That was Stubbs' 36th career home run -- sixth at Wrigley Field, by far the most he has hit in any ballpark outside of Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, the Cubs had chances again, the best of which was loading the bases with two out in the third inning and letting Johnny Cueto off the hook. Aramis Ramirez -- who walked and singled today -- flied to left to end the inning. Despite reaching base twice, A-Ram still looks like he needs a day off, just to clear his head.
Starlin Castro's day off yesterday didn't help him at all; he went 0-for-4 and stranded the bases loaded in the seventh. It appears that pitchers have caught up to Castro; he's a great fastball hitter but they are now throwing him a lot of breaking balls. It's up to Castro to adjust. That's the mark of a talented hitter, to adjust after the league has adjusted to him. The 0-fer dropped his once lofty average to an even .300.
Carlos Pena, who had a hit and a pair of strikeouts in his first three trips to the plate, which briefly brought his BA over the Mendoza line (.202), ended at .198 when he nearly duplicated yesterday's effort off Reds closer Francisco Cordero. Instead of pulling the ball, though, Pena lofted a fly ball to the deepest part of the ballpark. On a day when the wind wasn't blowing in from right-center field, Pena's drive might have made the basket or first row of the bleachers. Instead, Stubbs caught it up against the still almost-bare ivy; Cordero then struck out Geovany Soto and got Blake DeWitt to fly to Stubbs to end it.
90% of the time, or perhaps even a bit more, when you get an outing out of your starting pitcher like Dempster's today, you should win. Dempster knocked another 3/4 of a run off his ERA, though it is still an ugly 7.20; the two good outings in a row should end any thought that something's wrong with him. He threw 62 strikes in 81 pitches -- outstanding. Jeff Samardzija had an excellent 1-2-3 inning and threw only eight pitches. Shark is finally starting to look like he can help solidify the bullpen.
If only the offense could help out. This series was winnable; Cubs pitchers gave a pretty good offensive club only eight runs in three games, and the Cubs are going to have to win series like this if they're going to try to contend in a weak division. The Cardinal series coming up will be another good test.
Today's announced crowd of 31,931 was the fourth-smallest of the season on one of the best weather days so far this year. A game-time temperature of 63 degrees dropped into the high 50s with the lake breeze, and a high overcast made it a bit chilly by game's end. Estimate: about 25,000-26,000 of the paid crowd actually showed up this afternoon. Some more numbers about attendance, 17 dates in:
2011: 592,281 (34,840 average); 2010: 655,269 (38,545). That's down 9.6%. Through 17 dates last year, the smallest crowd was 36,660. Only five of the 17 dates so far this year have drawn more than that.
This is a warning sign to Cubs management -- yes, the weather has been a contributing factor, but the largest factors are high-priced tickets (today was a $65 bleacher ticket -- that wasn't realistic on Mother's Day) and an underperforming team.
Hopefully, the latter will change as the weather warms. There were some positive signs this weekend -- here's hoping those translate into wins this week against the division leading Cardinals.