I have no complaints about the Cubs' 8-3 win over the Phillies Sunday afternoon, their first Wrigley Field win of 2014.
Well, check that. I have one small thing to gripe about, but I'll leave that for later.
First, let's talk about the good stuff, and there was plenty of that. The Cubs did everything right in the first inning -- drew walks, got a couple of timely extra-base hits, and scored a pair of runs on sacrifice flies. Four runs crossed the plate on just those two hits, a triple by Ryan Kalish and a two-run double from Starlin Castro. Kalish later doubled and walked twice, and was flying around the bases on the triple. I like the way he plays and would like to see him get more playing time. Kalish was at one time a Baseball America Top 100 prospect (No. 96 before the 2008 season), and had very good years in the Red Sox system in 2009 and 2010 before injuries slowed him down. Looks like Theo did a good job dumpster-diving on Kalish.
Four runs, at the time, was the first time the Cubs had scored more than one run in an inning over the season's first six games, and was half the entire season run output before Sunday.
They matched it in the sixth inning, this time taking advantage of Ben Revere's drop of a catchable fly ball off the bat of Ryan Sweeney, a hit batsman and then three more hits off A.J. Burnett. After Kalish's double had scored two runs, Ryne Sandberg came out to talk to Burnett, but left him in. One batter too many, as it turned out, as Burnett gave up an RBI single to Anthony Rizzo before Sandberg finally yanked him. Learning experience, right, Ryno?
Meanwhile, Carlos Villanueva struggled a bit, but managed to get out of a two-baserunner jam in the first inning and a bases-loaded jam in the fourth (thanks to a Castro error on what should have been an easy double-play ball). Then he and the Cubs got a couple of good breaks in the fifth inning. With two runners on, Chase Utley bounced into a groundout that Villanueva touched before Castro threw him out. Sandberg used his challenge, and the umpires went for the first challenge review in Wrigley Field history. The right-field LED board kept us informed throughout, noting "UNDER REVIEW" and then saying "CONFIRMED" when the umpires came back and indicate the original "out" call was correct. The review took about two minutes, which, in my view, is about as long as any review should take. Longer than that? Then it's likely inconclusive, which would mean the call on the field stands.
After that, Ryan Howard hit a line drive that Emilio Bonifacio snared at second base, doubling Jimmy Rollins off to end the fifth inning, and allow Villanueva to qualify for the win.
So the Cubs took advantage of the opportunities given them, scoring the eight runs on just six hits -- but also five walks, a hit batter, and a key error that made all four sixth-inning runs unearned. The eight runs was by far a season high -- in fact, the four runs in the first inning alone took care of that -- and doubled the season-to-date runs total through Saturday's game.
Now, for my one complaint. I was against the Jose Veras signing when it was made, and after seeing him pitch in spring training and a couple of regular-season games, I'm even more convinced that it wasn't worth it. Clearly, he was signed with the thought that he'd be flipped at the trading deadline. Who's going to take him? Small sample size, I'll admit, but he's now faced 13 batters and walked five of them. Last year was his best for BB/9 ratio: 3.2, which is acceptable for a closer. Before 2013, that ratio was 4.9, which is Marmolesque. The Cubs, in my view, had a perfectly acceptable closer candidate in Pedro Strop -- why bother signing a mid-30s guy who you want off the team by midsummer? Veras turned what should have been an easy ninth inning into an 18-minute extravaganza during which Rick Renteria had to bring Strop into the game after Veras walked four of the six hitters he faced.
Having opened the complaint department briefly, I'll again close it. This was a nicely-played game (until the ninth, anyway), with good pitching (two nice relief innings from Hector Rondon, incidentally), timely hitting and good fielding. More of this, please.
Of the 26,712 announced as tickets sold Sunday, maybe 14,000 showed up on a day that alternated chilly breezes and some sunshine that temporarily warmed us. This is, as far as I can tell, the smallest paid crowd on a Sunday at Wrigley Field since May 10, 1998 (a nearly identical 26,710). More good baseball will mean more good crowds; I'd expect the crowds for the Pittsburgh series to be quite small, with cold evenings forecast Tuesday and Wednesday, although Thursday afternoon might draw well, with the advance forecast showing sunshine and temps near 70.
The Cubs are off Monday, but we'll have plenty here at BCB... stick around!