When Chris Rusin got Yasiel Puig on a called third strike in the first inning, I said to my assembled friends in the left-field bleachers (jokingly), "What's the big deal about this guy?"
We found out. Puig later walked, doubled and homered; the Dodgers put together a 12-hit attack and defeated the Cubs 6-4, showing a decent-sized crowd on a nice night at Wrigley Field why they're the hottest team in baseball.
The Cubs put on a home-run show Thursday night before going down, though. Junior Lake hit his first two Wrigley Field home runs, the first of which flew right over our heads before landing on Waveland Avenue. Anthony Rizzo also homered twice and now has three homers in his last two games and in his last six games is 9-for-20 (.450/.560/1.000 -- yes, a 1.000 SLG for a 1.560 OPS).
Unfortunately, that was almost the sum total of the Cubs' offense Thursday night. They managed only one other hit -- Darwin Barney's two-out second-inning single -- and just four other baserunners, one on a Hanley Ramirez error in the sixth inning after the Dodgers had taken a 5-3 lead. That play should have ended the inning -- and Ramirez had just two batters earlier started a really slick double play -- but instead the Cubs had the bases loaded. Cody Ransom was sent up to bat for Luis Valbuena and the Dodgers countered with the usual platoon switch, bringing in Chris Withrow. Withrow struck out Ransom, and apart from Rizzo's second homer, that was it for the Cubs' offense. Dodgers pitchers struck out 13 Cubs, including Kenley Jansen striking out the side to end the game for his 15th save.
There were quite a number of Dodger fans in evidence at Wrigley Thursday night, or maybe it was Puig fans; they cheered the loudest on Puig's ninth-inning homer that put the game out of reach. Or maybe it was out of reach when the Dodgers scored three runs to take the lead off Chris Rusin and Michael Bowden. Truth be told, Rusin didn't pitch too badly; he threw five pretty good innings, getting out of trouble several times, but when he put the first two runners on in the sixth, Dale Sveum called on Bowden, who wasn't good. He gave up a two-run single to Jerry Hairston (what is it about Hairstons that they can't do well when they are Cubs, but come back and hit well at Wrigley when they're not?) and a run-scoring single to Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez's hit could have scored two runs, but David DeJesus threw Puig out at the plate.
There was an Eduardo Sanchez sighting yet again Thursday night, and this time, in the actual game instead of just an apparent mirage in the bullpen. Sanchez threw a scoreless inning, the only Cubs reliever to do so. The first two outs were medium-deep fly balls and then Scott Van Slyke doubled to left-center. He got caught straying too far off second base and was tagged out to end the inning. Sanchez has a decent fastball and, if I weren't so opposed to eight-man bullpens, I'd say he's worth keeping around for a while. Eventually, the Cubs are going to have to figure out who to add as a fifth bench player, because it isn't good to stick with only four bench players for an extended period. Actually, they'll need two bench players, because Julio Borbon just... isn't... good. He popped up as a pinch-hitter Thursday night and since the beginning of June is 10-for-64 (.156/.239/.203). Overall he's not much better (.192/.276/.260 with an OPS+ of 49). There has to be someone in the system who can hit better than that. (Jae-Hoon Ha? Matt Szczur? John Andreoli? Seriously, how much worse could it be?)
One final note: There have been 45 games in Cubs history since 1916 (and probably ever, since home runs were rare before 1916) where the Cubs have hit four or more home runs in a game and lost. But Thursday night's was just the third time ever where at least two Cubs had multi-homer games and the team still lost. Here are the others: May 12, 1930 (two-homer games from Cliff Heathcote and Clyde Beck) and April 16, 1955 (three players had two homers each: Randy Jackson, Dee Fondy and Ernie Banks, and the Cubs still lost, 12-11 in 14 innings).
Homers are great, but it helps if you can get other people on base, too. The Dodgers and Cubs will continue their series Friday afternoon, with Travis Wood facing L.A. rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu.