The Cubs' 5-1 win over the Braves Wednesday -- their first-ever on a Fourth of July holiday in Atlanta -- provided some real glimmers of hope for the future. No, seriously. No sarcasm intended.
The Cubs scored a run in the first inning when Starlin Castro crossed the plate as Anthony Rizzo was caught stealing second base. Whether that was the intention of the play or not, it's something that recent Cubs teams haven't done. But then, Paul Maholm loaded the bases full of Braves in the bottom of the first with just one out.
"Here we go again," I thought. These are the kinds of situations where the 2012 Cubs have gotten themselves blown out, and Maholm has been one of the biggest contributors. But Maholm induced a double-play grounder to get out of the inning with no runs scoring, and he seemed to get stronger after that. Maholm did eventually give up a run in the third that tied the game -- but that was the only run he allowed in six otherwise effective innings.
Then the Cubs bats got to work. Again, no sarcasm!
Cubs hitters turned on the power and hit three home runs, the eighth time this year they've hit three or more in a game. Rizzo hit his third in the eight games he's been with the major league squad; Jeff Baker, his second of the season (as a pinch-hitter, no less), and Bryan LaHair, his 14th. It was LaHair's first home run since June 18, and after seeing his batting average slide from a peak of .390 on May 6 all the way to .279 on June 27, LaHair's been heating up again: 8-for-18 in his last five games.
LaHair also made a nice diving catch in right field (although he still looks mostly awkward out there).
And Alfonso Soriano turned in an outstanding defensive play in the sixth inning, bailing Maholm out of that inning with a tremendous throw to nail Chipper Jones trying to score.
James Russell and Carlos Marmol finished up without incident. Marmol came into the game in a non-save situation (four-run lead), and sometimes closers that are in that situation have trouble finishing things off, but Marmol actually had one of his better innings of the season, throwing just 13 pitches and retiring the side 1-2-3. In Marmol's last 10 appearances, which cover 8⅔ innings, he's allowed five hits, five walks, one run and struck out 15 -- more in line with his outstanding 2010 season.
I still think Theo & Jed would like to trade Marmol if possible -- and with this kind of performance, there might just be some teams getting interested before the deadline (no, I haven't heard anything, just speculating).
Why, it's almost as if this were a real contending baseball team!
Obviously, that's not the case. The Cubs reached the mathematical halfway point of the season at 31-50 -- that's still on pace for 100 losses (62-100). But since Anthony Rizzo was recalled last week, they're 6-2, and that's not a coincidence; Rizzo has hit well and played good defense at first base and took responsibility for one misplay, showing leadership. Obviously, it's not all Rizzo -- and it is just eight games -- but we've seen quite a bit of why Theo & Jed drafted him and, at least in Jed Hoyer's case, acquired him twice in trade.
The win clinches the season series for the Cubs over the Braves, the first such win for the Cubs since 2008, when they swept all six games over Atlanta. It might not mean much now, but it's a good step toward a brighter future.
Finally, I wanted to let all of you know that I've acquired tickets to the All-Star Game events in Kansas City, so I'll be heading that way over the weekend. On the way, I'm going to stop in Des Moines on Saturday to see the Iowa Cubs play. So if any of you are heading to that game, perhaps we can meet up. I've never seen the Triple-A team play, so I'm excited to see Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson and some of the other up-and-coming Cubs. If I read the boxscores correctly, looks like Chris Rusin will be Saturday's starter -- I liked what I saw from him in spring training and will be interested to see how he's progressed.
Onward, then, to a brighter future.