In the preview to Wednesday night's Cubs/Rockies game, I had mentioned that Jeff Samardzija had homered off Jon Garland the last time the two faced each other, which was in a spring-training game this past March -- that, while Garland was still a member of the Seattle Mariners.
Maybe Samardzija was paying close attention to what Garland was throwing, because he deposited the first pitch Garland threw to him Wednesday night into the left-field bleachers with Darwin Barney on base, giving the Cubs a lead they never relinquished at 3-1. (It would have been enough to provide the game-winning margin by itself, had it not been for some questionable relief choices in the ninth inning. More on that later.) The Cubs won the game 6-3 over the Rockies for their first series win at Wrigley Field since they won one last August 24-26, also over the visitors from Colorado. That August series was played in thundery weather; this one in much better spring conditions, Wednesday's on a pleasant night with temperatures in the 60s, light winds, and a much larger in-house crowd than you might have expected given the fact that Bulls and Blackhawks playoff games were both on television, and the latter taking place in town at the United Center.
David DeJesus led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run, his fifth of the season. DDJ is hitting .290/.362/.516 after a slow start; while I like his play and his presence, it's clear that at his age and with his contract status, he's a prime candidate to be traded this July. He's having one of the best years of his career.
Samardzija, meanwhile, was mowing down Rox hitters; a walk and two singles resulted in a Colorado run in the second inning, but then Shark retired 11 straight before pinch-hitter Reid Brignac homered in the sixth to make it 3-2. The Cubs put the game away in the seventh with a three-run rally off Rockies reliever Josh Outman, capped by run-scoring singles by Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo also doubled; the Cubs' 92 doubles keep them on pace to smash the team record (pace: 373; record: 340). The Cubs managed to produce six runs despite some sketchy baserunning by Rizzo (who got himself caught between second and third after a first-inning double) and Luis Valbuena (who thought strike three on Dioner Navarro was ball four and pulled up short of second base, to be easily tagged out).
Shark went eight innings and probably could have thrown the ninth, entering with 105 pitches, but as is his usual M.O., Dale Sveum decided to go to the bullpen. Here's where I quibble with Sveum's choices. James Russell, who hadn't pitched since Sunday, was the first man in the game because ZOMG WE CAN'T HAVE A RHP FACE A LHB!
Russell got Carlos Gonzalez on a called third strike and then Kevin Gregg, who also hadn't seen game action since Sunday, was summoned because ZOMG WE CAN'T HAVE A LHP FACE A RHB!
This wasn't the only problem with that move. Gregg hadn't started to warm up until the ninth inning began and, with Russell having thrown only five pitches to CarGo, it didn't seem as if Gregg was fully ready. It showed; Gregg ran a 3-1 count on Troy Tulowitzki and then Tulo roped a single to center. After a lazy fly ball by Todd Helton, Gregg made an error on a ball hit back to him by Nolan Arenado that could have ended the game. Instead, since Tulowitzki had taken second on defensive indifference, that put runners on first and third. Josh Rutledge singled in a run (unearned due to Gregg's own error, leaving his ERA at 0.00).
Now the tying run was at the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Wilin Rosario. Isn't this the situation you'd want to avoid?
Rosario hit a line drive off Gregg, but right at DDJ, to end the game.
A little too much managerial thinking for my tastes, but a win is a win. The Cubs have now won consecutive series and six of their last nine and are considerably better off than they were after 40 games a year ago. At that point, the 2012 Cubs were 15-25 and had just dropped the fifth game of what was to become a 12-game losing streak.
This Cubs team won't do that; obviously, there are no guarantees, but it does appear that the 2013 Cubs have enough good starting pitching and an improved bullpen that could stop any long losing streak. They're six games under .500 but moved percentage points ahead of the Brewers into fourth place, for whatever that's worth, and have a run differential of just -7, which translates into a Pythagorean record of 19-21.
With the Mets, a team with a worse record than the Cubs, coming in this weekend, perhaps another series win is possible.
Oh, and about that DH comment? Well, you know how I feel about pitchers batting, despite Shark's home run. It was fun to watch, but a rarity; over the last 25 seasons, Cubs pitchers have hit 31 home runs at Wrigley Field, an average of just 1.24 per year, and of those, nearly half (13) were hit by Carlos Zambrano (and seven others by Kerry Wood). It just doesn't happen enough to make it worth not having the extra offense in the lineup.
Enjoy the off day. I'm sure the Cubs will.