Timely hitting? Check. Solid relief pitching? Check. Outstanding defense? Check.
Those are among the best ways to win baseball games, and the Cubs demonstrated all three Saturday night in a 3-2 win over the Marlins. Yes, the Marlins do appear to be the worst team in the major leagues -- but the Cubs, at least for one night, looked like they could have defeated just about anyone with the way they played.
The teams traded single runs in each of the first two innings; the Marlins' runs were solo home runs off Travis Wood, including one by Giancarlo Stanton that might have landed in the Atlantic Ocean if not for the back wall of Marlins Park being in the way. (The two Marlins home runs mean that they have now hit the same number of homers in their home park in 12 games -- four -- as the Cubs have hit in the three games in this series.) Wood, meanwhile, settled down and posted yet another quality start, the team's 15th. The Cubs' team ERA of 3.29 ranks third in the NL (behind the Cardinals and Braves) and fifth overall (Rangers and Royals are also better). The Cubs have also, despite some pitchers giving up too many walks, kept runners off base -- the team WHIP ranks second in the NL and fourth overall.
The Cubs made three really nice defensive plays that were, in the end, the keys to winning this game. One of them you see depicted at the top of this post, a running grab of an Austin Kearns drive by Alfonso Soriano. Len and JD, in praising Soriano's defense, gave credit to coach Dave McKay for working hard with Soriano on defense beginning last season. Soriano is now 37 years old, yet playing left field better than he ever has. Credit, too, to Soriano for putting in the time and the work.
Nate Schierholtz made fine defensive play No. 2, a faceplant dive right on the right-field line in the bottom of the sixth inning on a drive that was tailing away from him.
And in the eighth inning, after Carlos Marmol had come into the game and (as usual) made things worse by throwing a wild pitch and walking Stanton, Kearns hit a ground ball that appeared to be headed up the middle. Starlin Castro made a diving stop and flipped to Darwin Barney just in time to force Stanton at second to end the inning. If Castro doesn't stop that ball, the Marlins probably tie the game. As Len and JD mentioned on the broadcast, it was a very similar play to the one that happened against the Cubs in Cincinnati in the 1-0 loss Wednesday.
The Cubs had scored the lead, and eventual winning, run in the top of the seventh; Welington Castillo led off the inning with a single, went to second on a Julio Borbon walk (refreshing, right? To talk about Cubs hitters walking instead of pitchers giving up walks?), and came across the plate on a David DeJesus single.
Kevin Gregg finished off the game for his third save. It's 2013 and I'm still shaking my head that I am writing things like "Kevin Gregg" and "save" in the same sentence in a Cubs recap, but he's looked quite good since his signing. Dale Sveum appears to be doing exactly what he said he'd do after the injury to Kyuji Fujikawa -- use his relief pitchers in matchups. So far, at least, it appears to be working.
I said I'd be disappointed if the Cubs didn't win at least three of four in this series, and I already have my wish with the series finale still to go Sunday afternoon. Now, after seeing the Cubs play solid baseball in all three games, particularly Saturday, I'm going to get greedy -- I want the sweep. The last time a Cubs team swept a four-game series on the road (in fact, the last time they swept a four-game set at all): August 1-4, 2011, in Pittsburgh, part of a seven-game winning streak.
That'd be nice. This team has played better than its record. They'll go for the sweep at 12:10 CT, with Carlos Villanueva facing Ricky Nolasco. The game preview will post at 10:30 a.m. CT.