You know this is a different type of Cubs season when I mention "things that haven't happened since."
In this case, BCB's Erik Peterson posed the question to me: When was the last time the Cubs didn't lose any of their first three series? The answer is 2009, when the Cubs also started 5-3 and won series against the Astros and Brewers before splitting a pair with the Rockies. The Cubs were supposed to be strong contenders that year and wound up winning just 83 games. An 83-win season would be a strong improvement this year.
The Cubs' 5-0 win over the Reds Wednesday evening got me curious about another "since": When was the last time the Cubs had two shutout wins in their first eight games?
It's a curiosity, all right. The answer is 1974, when they shut out the Phillies on Opening Day and then also won that year's eighth game by shutout, 1-0 over the Pirates. That team lost 96 games.
So the first eight games aren't necessarily an indication of anything, but winning the way the Cubs have so far without a significant contribution from putative ace Jon Lester is a very good thing.
Wednesday night, it was Travis Wood's turn to shine. Wood had a 2014 almost as bad as Edwin Jackson's, but Wednesday he stepped up and looked like the T-Wood who made the All-Star team in 2013. Dominant throughout, he had good velocity and excellent location and gave up just two hits in his first seven innings, both singles. Only one runner, Joey Votto, who walked in the fourth, got past first base until Wood tired in the eighth and gave up a single and a walk before leaving to a loud, warm ovation.
More of this, please. Wood was slated to be either the No. 4 or No. 5 starter this year and getting this kind of performance out of him would make the Cubs' rotation formidable.
The offense produced more than enough to win in the first two innings. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a double, his fifth extra-base hit in eight games. Then Anthony Rizzo, who hadn't had a single XBH all year, stepped up to the plate and mashed a no-doubt-about-it home run into the steel girders that will soon be right-field bleachers, his first of 2015. The Cubs added two more in the second on a single by Jonathan Herrera and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch taken by Jorge Soler after the Reds intentionally walked Rizzo to pitch to Soler.
That's a by-the-book move, as Reds manager Bryan Price didn't want Jason Marquis to pitch to the lefty-hitting Rizzo again, with first base open after Herrera stole second. But soon, the league will learn that the Cubs now have too many dangerous hitters to do that.
The Cubs' final run was tacked on via a Miguel Montero sacrifice fly after a hit, an error and a walk loaded the bases. Note that walks played a role in all three Cubs scoring innings. The Cubs rank fifth in the N.L. with 30 walks, a good total for eight games. It's a little early for "pace," but 3.75 walks per game would produce 607 walks in a 162-game season. The Cubs' franchise record for walks in a season is 650, set in 1975. They came close to breaking that in 2008, winding up with 636, a big reason that team led the National League in runs.
After Wood's departure, Phil Coke got out of the eighth thanks in part to a spectacular double play begun by Starlin Castro, who was excellent in the field and at the plate Wednesday evening. MLB won't let us embed video for 24 hours after the game, but you can watch the double play at this link. Nice work by Castro, who also had two hits and a walk, a most productive evening.
Of concern is the apparent injury to Neil Ramirez, whose velocity wasn't his usual 95 -- it was reported as only 90, and he threw only three pitches, bouncing in the third one. None was in the strike zone and Joe Maddon and the training staff scurried to the mound to get Ramirez out of the game. Here's the current report on Ramirez:
#Cubs Neil Ramirez out with right shoulder discomfort. Day to day— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 16, 2015
Ramirez missed some time during spring training with this same velocity issue. I hope it's nothing serious, but it would not surprise me if the Cubs sent him to the DL and brought up another bullpen reinforcement from Iowa. Or, perhaps, activated Chris Denorfia from the DL for Friday's game. Justin Grimm is eligible to come off the DL Friday, so perhaps he could be activated to replace Ramirez.
What any move made for Friday almost certainly will not be is the major-league debut of Kris Bryant. Like most of you, I expect that to be done on the next road trip. Beyond any other considerations, the Padres, who come into Wrigley Field to begin a three-game series on Friday, are starting James Shields that day. I doubt Theo & Co. would want Bryant to make his big-league debut against Shields. Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, two very good pitchers in their own right, make the starts in this weekend's other two games. Perhaps better to wait until the Cubs get to Pittsburgh, or even Cincinnati a week from Friday, for Bryant's debut.
So the Cubs will take a well-deserved day off Thursday before the Padres come in for the weekend. Jason Hammel will be Shields' opponent in the series opener on Friday.