MESA, Arizona -- This is the kind of game where there really isn't much to write about. Jeff Samardzija threw well enough, but the Cubs generated no offense whatsoever, so let's talk about Junior Lake.
Lake, starting in left field, popped a ball into short center field that Abraham Almonte appeared to lose in the sun. It went for a gift double with one out in the third inning. Darwin Barney, the next hitter, grounded to second base. Lake didn't have to go anywhere, but took off for third, where he was caught and tagged out in a rundown. While this was going on, Barney tried to take second and was also tagged out.
That appeared to be the Cubs' signal to shut down the offense entirely, because they had just two baserunners the last six innings, on a single by Welington Castillo leading off the fifth, and a one-out walk to Ryan Roberts in the eighth.
This isn't good, and it wasn't against really good pitching, either (although Fernando Rodney is pretty good). Erasmo Ramirez, who wasn't all that good for the Mariners in 14 appearances last year, gave the Cubs just four hits while striking out four. Rodney was responsible for the walk, and the Mariners' other pitchers were Joe Beimel, who is nearly 37 and who hasn't thrown in the major leagues since 2011, and Yoervis Medina, who had a decent rookie year for Seattle in 2013.
Lake also made a spectactular leaping catch against the left-field fence, reaching over the wall on a drive hit by Logan Morrison in the sixth inning. That's great, but I'd like to see him make the routine plays better. He was pretty casual in making some other plays in the game, and to me, he's still a work in progress in the outfield. Nate Schierholtz also made a really nice diving catch on a drive hit by John Buck in the fifth inning.
Mike Olt, making his first start at third base, barely touched the ball. That's meant to be taken literally, because the very first time he did touch the ball, in the fourth inning on a ground ball by Dustin Ackley, he couldn't pick it up and Ackley was generously credited with a single. Olt made just two other plays, retiring Almonte on a routine ground ball in the sixth and catching a popup in the seventh. Naturally, as soon as he was removed from the game, the first two plays in the next inning (the eighth) went right to third base.
Olt appeared still somewhat tentative even on throwing the ball around the infield after strikeouts; he might still need some work to get rid of whatever's bothering him on that shoulder. I would like to see him at third base every day, and if he can make the routine plays and can hit, I think he should be the third baseman on Opening Day in Pittsburgh.
Attendance watch: the Cubs set yet another record Thursday, 15,243. That made the season total for 11 dates 153,002, an average of 13,909 to date. Another sellout is expected Saturday against the Reds, which should bring the season average over 14,000. The Cubs have to be very happy with attendance this year, given the state of the team on the field. I attribute it to three things:
- The unbelievably awful winter in Chicago and the Midwest, possibly spurring more people to take an Arizona vacation
- The amazingly nice weather in Arizona which, apart from one rainout, has been warm and sunny for every single home game, and
- The curiosity factor of any new ballpark, coupled with the rave reviews the park is getting from just about everyone
I'd like to hope that the Cubs won't take the fabulous attendance as a sign to raise spring ticket prices. Because if they do, I think they will be surprised at how empty the place will be in 2015. A small increase? Sure, I can see that. But a large one? Careful what you wish for.
Friday, Chris Rusin gets the start against against the White Sox' John Danks. If you're going -- and I'm skipping the long ride to Glendale, my last off day of the spring -- Javier Baez is expected to start at shortstop. Perhaps that will give a jumpstart to an offense that barely bothered to show up at Mesa Thursday afternoon.