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Cubs 4, Reds 2: Trade Bait

Carlos Villanueva continued his fine 2013 pitching with a gem Tuesday night, but he failed to get the win. Will he be a member of the Cubs come August?

Andy Lyons

You've heard this line before, I'm sure: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results.

Why, then, does Dale Sveum keep going to his bullpen to save games? Monday night's game was Carlos Villanueva's to win. Len & DJ talked about it over and over and over as the ninth inning approached with the Cubs clinging to a 2-1 lead. There must be something about the magical 100-pitch barrier that springs Sveum from his dugout seat, because after a ninth-inning leadoff walk to Shin-Soo Choo (where Villanueva appeared to have been squeezed on the pitch just prior to ball four) and a sacrifice bunt, Sveum came out to remove Villanueva.

At 99 pitches. When Villanueva had kept Reds hitters off balance with good pitch selection and movement the entire evening; he had allowed just two singles, one walk and a solo homer to Chris Heisey before the free pass to Choo. Just seven Cubs starters have thrown 100 pitches or more this year and just two (Villanueva Tuesday night, tying his career high with 8⅓ innings, and Jeff Samardzija on Opening Day in Pittsburgh) have gone eight innings or more.

Yes, I know, trust your bullpen, Villanueva hasn't gone this far, yadda yadda. At a certain point, you want to win the game, and the Cubs' bullpen has been beyond awful so far this season. Personally, I'd have let Villanueva stay in, even though the tough Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips were the next two hitters. Votto's day against Villanueva: ground out, fly to left, ground out; Phillips: ground out, line drive to center, ground ball that Cody Ransom threw away.

You knew, just knew, what was going to happen next; the lead lasted two pitches. Carlos Marmol threw ball one to Votto; on the next pitch Votto singled past a diving Darwin Barney, tying the game and making it the sixth blown save for Cubs relievers (that's tied for the MLB lead with the Diamondbacks). Naturally, Marmol couldn't get through an inning without issuing a walk; Phillips was the beneficiary. After Marmol struck out Jay Bruce, he issued another walk before getting out of the inning.

Once again, the Cubs took a two run, 4-2 lead in the top of an extra inning, thanks in part to Barney's first home run of the year (and first-ever on the road; he'd hit nine before Tuesday night, all at Wrigley). Julio Borbon (who ought to get a start soon) singled, stole second and was singled in for the second run.

That left it up to Kevin Gregg. Nervous time, right? But Gregg managed to nail down the save by striking out Votto; you might be amused to see the Cubs lineup from the previous time Gregg saved a game for the Cubs, August 15, 2009. That gave the "win" to Marmol, who now leads the staff in individual "wins" with two, showing again how little meaning individual pitcher wins have in 21st-Century baseball.

The player of the game, of course, was Villanueva, and thus the headline to this post. It's early, but it sure appears as if the Cubs will be sellers at the trading deadline. Villanueva is off to the best start of his career, and though his peripherals suggest that maybe he's not quite this good, if he can keep going anywhere near this well, at age 29 and with a team-friendly contract, he'll be in demand. It's too bad -- at that age, he might even be worth a contract extension, and he certainly has among the best facial hair in Cubs history.

The other star of the game was Ransom, who homered and doubled, leading me to believe that somehow, an impostor had come in to Cincinnati and stolen Ransom's uniform. Ransom is now 2-for-4 as a Cub after going 0-for-11 with the Padres; he also made two nice defensive stops. OK, one of them he wound up throwing away, but the stop looked good. Who knows? Maybe he'll play the way he did last year, with 11 home runs and an OPS+ of 91, which is kind of what we had hoped to get out of Brent Lillibridge.

So the Cubs actually have a chance to win a road series in a good team's park Wednesday afternoon, with Samardzija on the mound facing Mat Latos. The game preview will post at 10 a.m. Before I wrap this up, I wanted to call your attention to something in this recap of the Red Sox' 13-0 loss to the Athletics Tuesday night, a game that was played in a steady cold rain and finally called after seven innings:

Out of respect to the less-than-ideal weather conditions, the Red Sox announced that any fan with a ticket stub for the game could return to either Wednesday's or Thursday's games for free. Ticket stubs from Tuesday's game can be exchanged starting two hours prior to Wednesday's 4:O5 p.m. ET contest or Thursday's 6:35 game.

Wow. That's a great offer. Since the Cubs seem to want to emulate the Red Sox in every way, perhaps they'd consider a fan-friendly offer like this, the next time a game is played in less-than-ideal conditions.