This could have been a nasty-sounding recap running down how the Cubs blew a 6-0 lead and asking "how are they going to trade Kevin Gregg now?" after Gregg posted his third blown save in his last 11 appearances (6.00 ERA, 1.917 WHIP during that span).
Thanks to Nate Schierholtz, all of you who stayed up late to watch this game went to sleep happy after the Cubs defeated the Diamondbacks 7-6 in 12 innings. Schierholtz drove in a career-high five runs, including a three-run homer, and a double that drove in Anthony Rizzo with the eventual winning run in the 12th.
Schierholtz is having by far the best year of his career; playing almost strictly in a platoon role, he's already got career highs in homers and RBI, is approaching a career high in doubles and runs scored, and his .855 OPS is solid. The OPS has also been consistent -- not below .800 all season. He also plays solid defense in right field.
This has, as you might imagine, gotten other teams interested in trading for him, as Bruce Levine reports:
According to scouting sources, the NL Central-contending Pittsburgh Pirates have been watching Schierholtz for more than a month. The Pirates have had Schierholtz and Chicago White Sox right fielder Alex Rios at the top of their wish list, hoping to acquire more offense for the stretch run as they battle the St. Louis Cardinals for division supremacy.
Schierholtz was signed to a very team-friendly $2.25 million deal for this year. Unless another team is inclined to overpay for him, why not bring him back next year to serve the same platoon role, while the outfielders in the system develop? A question worth asking, anyway.
As far as the rest of Wednesday night's game is concerned, it was starting to look like Tuesday night's until Schierholtz blew open a fairly close 3-0 game to make it 6-0 with his homer in the fifth inning. Jeff Samardzija, who threw a ton of pitches (winding up with a season-high 118), gave up two runs in the fifth and then had to be lifted in the sixth, having run out of gas.
Unfortunately, Blake Parker made the game close by allowing a three-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt. In some ways, there's no shame in that -- Goldschmidt is, after all, one of the best hitters in the National League. Often, I wind up writing about Cubs relievers who come in and give up homers like this to guys you've never heard of.
Matt Guerrier, James Russell and Pedro Strop held the lead. Strop, in particular, looks like a real find; he's recovered his performance level of 2012 when he was a key setup man for the Orioles, and so far, that's been a useful trade. Then Gregg came in and started getting hit hard. Even the outs he got were hard-hit; one of those outs, a sacrifice fly by Cody Ross, tied the game.
And so things slogged on into extra innings; the Cubs got the lead run to scoring position in the 11th (a Darwin Barney double), but could not score. Arizona had the winning run at third base with two out in the 10th, but could not score. The D'backs had essentially run out of position players, so they had to send pitcher Patrick Corbin up to pinch-hit; he struck out. (Though I'm still a DH proponent, I'll at least say that if the Cubs ever get in this position, they can send up Travis Wood, who can hit.) Meanwhile, the Cubs had only Michael Bowden and Hector Rondon left in the bullpen.
Rondon did the job, both before and after Schierholtz's 12th-inning double. Rondon did give up an 11th-inning double to Wil Nieves, and a walk, but otherwise had one of his better outings of the year -- two scoreless innings and the official "win", for whatever that's worth. An outing like this one can be a real confidence-builder. Rondon has good stuff; if he can harness his command he can become a useful part of the bullpen.
The Cubs' six doubles gave them an even 200 for the season in 99 games; they've dropped a little bit off the pace to break the team record (pace now 327, record 340), but lead the National League by a significant margin (second are the Reds and Cardinals, 189).
Finally, what would a recap be this week without a mention of Junior Lake? Lake had two of the six doubles, drove in a run and scored once; he's having good at-bats and is now 14-for-27 (.519/.536/.852). Looks like the Cubs are going to have to find playing time for him. That's a nice problem to have; if Alfonso Soriano is in fact traded to the Yankees this week (which now appears likely), that problem's solved.
The Cubs have a chance to win their first series in Chase Field since 2010 (and that's their only series win in Phoenix since 2003) with a win tonight. Carlos Villanueva will face Wade Miley.