If only the Cubs could have started Thursday's game against the Braves in the second inning, it would have been close and competitive and...
Of course, they don't start baseball games that way. Remember when Randy Wells used to blow up in the first inning, then settle down? That was Matt Garza Thursday night in the Cubs' 7-3 loss to the Braves, only he never got the chance to settle down because he threw 44 pitches in the first inning, and a ghastly total of 94 in just four innings.
28 of those pitches were to Juan Francisco, the Braves' third baseman. He had an epic at-bat of 16 pitches in the first inning that ended in a groundout. Later, Francisco came up against Manuel Corpas in the eighth inning and hit a home run on the first pitch he saw.
In between and among all that, the Braves scored four runs in that first inning off Garza, and despite Cubs attempts to get back in the game, they couldn't close the deal and win a road series. They have won just one this year (at the Cell, of all places).
The Cubs finally got on the board against Mike Minor with a Geovany Soto solo homer in the fifth inning. By then they were trailing 5-0; it wound up being only the fifth start (out of 16) this year in which Minor allowed two earned runs or fewer. Why is it that Cubs teams make struggling pitchers look good most of the time? (Rhetorical question. Does not require an answer. Maybe does not have an answer.)
Reed Johnson accounted for the other Cubs runs when he singled in a run in the seventh inning; a second run scored on a throwing error. For a time it appeared the Cubs might get back in the game, trailing 6-3, but the Braves' bullpen shut the Cubs down and Francisco's home run finished off the scoring.
Garza didn't help his trade value with that outing. On the other hand, he had a much better second half in 2011, also; at this time a year ago he'd just come off one of his worst outings, a two-inning, six-earned-run crushing in Washington in which he made a comical fielding error (although the Cubs came back to win that game). In 16 starts following that one to the end of 2011, Garza posted a 2.79 ERA with 31 walks and 102 strikeouts in 105 innings, with just seven home runs allowed.
That'd be the sort of thing that teams would be interested in, although I'm still on the side of keeping Garza in the fold unless the Cubs get blown away with an offer.
The Cubs head on to New York to finish up their pre-All-Star work with a three-game set against the Mets. Travis Wood, who's been very good lately, will face Johan Santana, who the Cubs cuffed around pretty good at Wrigley Field last month. Santana, though, has been far better at home (1.16 ERA) than on the road (4.74 ERA), with eight starts each. The Cubs still aren't a great road team -- 12-31 -- so this might be a tough weekend.