There are two things we can certainly agree on regarding the Cubs' 9-4 win over the Reds Wednesday night:
- When the Cubs are winning, the length of the game becomes secondary, and
- This team actually is capable of scoring runs!
Anthony Rizzo was the offensive star of the game, hitting a two-run homer in the first inning (his second this year off a lefthander) and drawing four walks. Last year, Rizzo finished sixth in the National League in walks. The four bases on balls Wednesday night gave him 18 for the season... tied for fifth in the league with the Cardinals' Matt Carpenter.
But there were plenty of other offensive heroes in this game, which tied the Cubs' season high for runs. Starlin Castro had three hits; Junior Lake and Emilio Bonifacio had two each, and Nate Schierholtz, who has been slumping badly, had perhaps the biggest hit of the game, a two-run single in a four-run ninth inning that blew a close game open -- off former Cub Sean Marshall.
Both Castro and Rizzo had solid first months of 2014. That's a very, very good thing, especially after Rizzo's mildly disappointing 2013 and Castro's awful year last year.
Before all that, Edwin Jackson was... Edwin Jackson. He gave up four runs in 5⅔ innings, including the first home run of the season by Reds catcher Brayan Pena. Pena is not really a power hitter -- lifetime SLG of .363 -- but Jackson just never seemed to get untracked. Even after being given a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Rizzo's homer, he coughed the runs right back. And he looked annoyed when Rick(y) Renteria yanked him with two out in the sixth inning. I'm afraid this is what we're going to get from Jackson the rest of this year.
That's when the bullpen took over and looked really, really good. Brian Schlitter, Wesley Wright, Neil Ramirez and Hector Rondon threw 3⅓ innings and allowed just a single and a double, striking out four. Ramirez in particular was excellent, striking out Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier on fastballs that touched 96 miles per hour. Ramirez was throwing this hard in spring training, too, when I saw him throw; he could easily have made the Opening Day roster.
This will make for some tough decisions when Jake Arrieta is activated to start Saturday's game against the Cardinals. I can't see the Cubs going with an eight-man bullpen for too much longer; the short bench doesn't give the manager much flexibility -- that might have come into play Wednesday night. Castro looked like he had a hamstring issue when he pulled into second base on his ninth-inning double. If Castro had had to leave the game (and he appeared fine after that), Bonifacio would have had to come in to play the infield and Ryan Sweeney center field -- leaving only John Baker on the bench. Had the game gone into extra innings, this could have become a problem.
So two pitchers will likely have to return to Iowa, with Arrieta taking one spot and a position player the other. Schlitter, despite pitching well since his return, is one candidate to go and perhaps Zac Rosscup another, though Rosscup has also thrown well. It doesn't seem likely the Cubs will carry three lefties in the pen.
I'd even consider a DFA of Carlos Villanueva. Villanueva has been beyond awful this year after a decent 2013; he's allowed 40 (!) hits in 19⅓ innings. He doesn't have much future with this team and I wouldn't think much trade value, either.
It's always fun to watch a team you're rooting for do something like this -- timely hitting, solid pitching, breaking a close game open in the ninth inning.
More of the same, please. It won't get any easier with the Cardinals coming to Wrigley this weekend.
Enjoy today's off day and stick around BCB... we've got plenty ahead today including Josh's nominations for the BCB Cubs minor-league player and pitcher for the month of April.