About 10 minutes after the conclusion of the Cubs' second straight post-All-Star-break win, 4-1 over the Diamondbacks, the skies around Wrigley Field and the north side of Chicago opened up again with a steady rain, though not nearly as hard (nor as windy) as the storm that blew through on Friday.
So is that what it takes? Bad weather? That's what has to happen for the Cubs to begin winning? Bring it on.
The day started sunny, hot and humid, but rain passed through also during the game, a shower that lasted about an inning.
Meanwhile, Ryan Dempster was
increasing his trade value throwing more blanks at the opposition. His six shutout innings Saturday gave him a 33-consecutive-inning scoreless streak, the longest such streak since Ken Holtzman had a similar streak in May 1969. The longest streak in Cubs history belongs to Bill Lee, who threw four straight complete-game shutouts, along with a 1⅓-inning relief appearance in the middle of that string of blankings and the first inning after the fourth shutout, for a total of 38⅓ consecutive scoreless innings, in September 1938 (here are Lee's 1938 game logs).
That, of course, was a Cubs pennant year. This won't be, but Dempster could break that record in his next outing -- if he's still here, of course.
Dempster lowered his ERA to a major-league-leading 1.86, and I'd imagine Theo and Jed's phones are ringing off the hook trying to pry Dempster loose. Right now, his trade value has never been higher. The return should be as good as they can get; I'd like to see some of the Tigers' young pitchers and position-player prospects come over (Jacob Turner would be nice; so would Nick Castellanos, but I've heard Detroit considers him untouchable).
Dempster has been a solid contributor and good clubhouse presence in his nine years as a Cub. There are no guarantees, but if he's traded, I'd like to see Theo and Jed try to bring him back next season. A young team like the 2013 Cubs is going to need some veteran leadership, and that would help.
As for the rest of Saturday's game, Cubs hitters poked away at Joe Saunders (just back off the DL); they extended a 1-0 third-inning lead to 3-0 in the fourth on singles by Luis Valbuena and Alfonso Soriano, and a double by Darwin Barney. Valbuena had two hits, scored a run and drove in one; overall he's hitting just .233, but seems to have a knack of getting hits at important times. He could be a valuable bench player -- I don't think he's really good enough to be an everyday third baseman -- on an improving Cubs team over the next couple of years.
After Dempster was lifted, James Russell and Shawn Camp were effective enough in the seventh and eighth; Russell gave up the D'backs' only run, a solo homer by Chris Young.
And then it was Carlos Marmol time.
With a storm bearing down on the area, a fast inning was in order. No such luck. Marmol ran the count to 2-1 on Stephen Drew before Drew lashed a double into the right-center field gap. Then Marmol walked Young. This is a man who came into the game with a .293 OBP and Marmol walked him. Marmol has made 33 appearances this year. He's walked at least one batter in 19 of them.
Then Reed Johnson came to Marmol's rescue. Geoff Blum hit a deep fly ball to right, and Reed caught it, smacking his shoulder into the ivy (and bricks behind it) right after the ball landed in his glove, a spectacular grab. The runners had to get back to their bases -- and that turned out to be important, because the first pitch Marmol threw to pinch-hitter Jason Kubel was hit on the ground. If the runners had advanced, a run probably would have scored and the Cubs would have had only one out -- or maybe more, because the defensive alignment might have been different; if you pull in the infield with runners on second and third, that ball might have gone through.
Instead, Anthony Rizzo started a game-ending 3-6-1 double play, and Marmol had his ninth save of the year, though not an easy one.
So the Cubs are now 11-4 since the beginning of the Mets series at Wrigley last month, and in their last four games they've allowed a total of five runs. While this season is still going nowhere, it's good to see the team playing good fundamental baseball, not making errors or baserunning mistakes, and getting good pitching.
They'll go for the sweep Sunday, with Matt Garza scheduled to face Trevor Cahill -- and for the first time all weekend, no rain is in the forecast.