MESA, Arizona -- After the Cubs had completed a five-run, four-hit, one-walk, one-error first inning against the Diamondbacks, I thought, "This game has three hours written all over it." Considering the first inning had taken 35 minutes, that might have been considered optimistic, and it was.
Three hours and thirty-one minutes of major Cubs offense later, our favorite team had a 15-4 win over the Diamondbacks, lengthened at the end by some sketchy pitching and defense from guys who aren't going to be on the major league team.
But here, I'm starting at the end. The beginning was fun, at least once Jason Hammel had recovered from allowing hits to the first two D'back hitters of the game, followed by a sacrifice fly, giving Arizona a 1-0 lead.
The Cubs were relentless against Archie Bradley, who was a Top-20 prospect each of the last four years. Sure didn't look like a big-league pitcher Thursday, as Dexter Fowler hit a booming triple to lead off the first inning, then scored when Jean Segura threw the relay about 10 rows into the seats behind third base. After a walk, a double by Kris Bryant and a triple (!) from Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler came to the plate:
Oppo, no less. Soler also doubled in a run in the third inning, a hustle double, no less. I cannot tell you how he looked in the field, because he didn't touch a single baseball all evening. Nothing was hit his way at all, not even a base hit he could have picked up and thrown into the infield.
Jason Heyward scored twice after a walk and a triple, Schwarber added a pair of walks to his triple and scored three times, and Anthony Rizzo scored once and drove in a run. Munenori Kawasaki had a double in three trips and scored a run. Even minor-leaguer Victor Caratini joined in on the early-inning fun, doubling down the line and scoring in the fourth, batting for Jason Hammel.
Hammel, after his shaky first inning, gave up three singles in three subsequent innings and had D'backs hitters off balance most of the night, striking out six, including Jake Lamb to end the fourth. I suspect Joe Maddon would have liked to have Hammel go five innings, as John Lackey did Wednesday, but after throwing more than 60 pitches, that was probably enough for this start for Hammel. He should have at least two and possibly three more outings before the season begins.
Then it was up to the minor leaguers. It occurred to me when I was watching Drew Rucinski, Aaron Brooks and Brandon Gomes finish off this game that in years past -- recent ones -- we'd have been debating which bullpen positions those guys were going to fill on the big-league staff. But none of those men is anywhere close to the major-league bullpen unless there are injuries. They'll all likely be at Iowa, toiling away, backing up a very deep big-league pen.
Brooks actually threw pretty well for three innings, and would have gotten out of them scoreless if Jason Vosler at third base had been able to handle a routine two-out grounder in the eighth. Somehow, that booted ball was scored as a hit, so when Brooks gave up three subsequent hits, the two runs off him were earned.
Arismendy Alcantara isn't helping his cause with late-inning appearances in these games. He made two errors on what should have been routine ground balls.
Meanwhile, the sub Cubs were posting several more runs. Tim Federowicz, who batted for Rucinski in the fifth, hit the Cubs' fourth triple of the evening, driving in a pair. Kristopher Negron homered in the sixth, and John Andreoli, my personal winner of the "Scott McClain Memorial Spring Training Hero Award" (that's something I just made up, incidentally), did this in the eighth:
By then, as you can see, most everyone had departed Sloan Park, and the guy who came up with the ball was extraordinarily happy. And here's the explanation for the "Scott McClain Memorial Spring Hero Award." In 2004, McClain, fighting for the last spot on the 25-man roster, went 16-for-48 with five doubles, six home runs and 16 RBI in spring training, probably the best spring performance I saw from anyone until Kris Bryant's great 2015 camp. McClain, blocked at the only positions he could play (first and third base), didn't make the team. I wrote more about McClain here a couple of years ago.
Fun stuff like this is what spring training is for. Today's game was fun because the Cubs bats finally opened up the way we know they ought to be able to do. Most of the regulars played in this one, and the lineup resembled one you might see during the season.
The D'backs became "Greenbacks" for St. Patrick's day and looked somewhat odd with their dark gray pants, while the Cubs simply wore their usual blue tops and caps. Many in the sellout of 15,329 were also dressed in green and celebrating -- some overcelebrating, I have to say -- the mid-March holiday. The game was dragged out by the D'backs making a pair of mid-inning pitching changes, one due to a rib injury to Matt Reynolds, who left after retiring one Cubs hitter.
Attendance watch: the sellout brought the season total for nine games to 133,643, or 14,849 per date. If that average holds, this spring will break last spring's attendance records. Tickets remain for the final two games of the spring (3/29 vs. the Athletics and 3/30 vs. the Rockies); the other four remaining Sloan Park games are sold out.
Friday afternoon, the Cubs head west to Glendale to take on the White Sox. Kyle Hendricks gets the start for the Cubs. As of the time I wrote this article, the White Sox, who had Thursday as their single off day in March, had not named a starter (though their game notes from Wednesday list John Danks). The game preview for this afternoon's contest, which will be televised on CSN Chicago (Sox announcers), will post at 1 p.m. CT.