The rest of this season hasn't gone so well, but Sunday's 7-1 Cubs win over the Phillies got September going in the right direction, anyway.
Jake Arrieta had another strong outing, and if Chase Utley's grounder up the middle with two out in the seventh inning hadn't hit second base, Arrieta might have completed the seventh allowing just two hits; the only other safeties off him were an infield hit by Roger Bernadina in the third, and Darin Ruf's home run, Philly's only run, in the fourth. Arrieta also walked three, but again showed flashes of the ability that maddened Orioles fans when he'd follow one of these up with a poor outing. Put together some consistency and Arrieta could be in the 2014 rotation. Continue the off-and-on pattern and maybe it'd be better thinking about him as closer material. In either case, the Cubs got some real talent in the Scott Feldman trade.
Starlin Castro, who has had five pretty bad months, had himself another good day Sunday; he was 1-for-3 with a run scored and one driven in and made a couple of nice plays in the field. He looks more comfortable at shortstop, to me at least, and his throws are getting more accurate. If Castro can have a strong finish to his 2013 season, perhaps the trade talk can be quashed and we can begin thinking about where Javier Baez might move (or, maybe, Castro moves to second base).
The Cubs put together a couple of nice long-form rallies Sunday; particularly nicely executed was the fourth inning, where they pretty much put this one away. Donnie Murphy's single was followed by back-to-back doubles from Brian Bogusevic and Welington Castillo, scoring two runs. After Castro was hit by a pitch, Darwin Barney lofted a fly ball into medium-deep right field. Castillo, who had advanced to third base on a fly to right by Arrieta, was sent home. Personally, I wouldn't have done that, although it wasn't an unreasonable idea with a 4-1 lead. With Castillo's lack of speed, you're really just hoping Eric Kratz doesn't hold on to the ball or it gets knocked out of his glove, which is what happened, and Castillo scored the fifth run.
Arrieta also recorded his first hit as a Cub (he had one as an Oriole) with a bouncing single into center field with two out in the sixth inning.
The Cubs completed the scoring with a bases-loaded pinch-walk by Luis Valbuena, followed by Castro's sacrifice fly, in the eighth.
So this is good, right? Sure it is. The Cubs improved to 39-41 against teams not in the National League Central. Unfortunately, of their 26 remaining games, 20 of them will be against N.L. Central teams, three of whom (Cardinals, Reds, Pirates) are likely playoff clubs from the division. The Cubs are 19-37 within the Central and 15-29 against those three teams.
There's your wet blanket for the day. Here's something positive: the win lowered the Cubs' run differential to -50, which translates to a 62-74 record, four games better than the current 58-78 mark. So there's that, then. Also, it was the Cubs' first series win at home in almost two months, since they took two of three from the Pirates at Wrigley July 5-7. They're still just 5-16 at home since the All-Star break.
All of this came on a pleasant afternoon that was a bit humid in advance of what's supposed to be storms coming through tonight, after which the weather in Chicago is forecast to take a decidedly Septembrish turn, sunny, pleasant days and cool nights, just enough to remind ourselves that the baseball season here is about to come to an end. And, as I'm sure you'll agree, even bad baseball is better than no baseball.
The Marlins, with a ton of players you've probably never heard of, come to Wrigley for a three-game set starting Monday afternoon; Travis Wood will take the mound against Henderson Alvarez.