ON THE ROAD TO CHICAGO -- For a time Tuesday night, it looked as if Jon Lester was going to duplicate Jake Arrieta's effort from Monday and throw seven shutout innings against the Angels.
The Angels broke through in the sixth inning with a run on a double by Yunel Escobar and single from Craig Gentry, but the Cubs kept their lead with solid relief pitching and defeated the Angels 6-1.
This might not seem like such a big deal, taking a two-game set from a team that has its issues, but here's a statistic that might, or might not, mean something: It has been 21 years since any Cubs team won its first two games. In the labor stoppage-shortened 1995 season of 144 games, the Cubs went 2-0 by taking a series in Cincinnati. That year didn't wind up a playoff season, but the 1995 Cubs did finish with a winning record, 73-71.
In fact, Cubs teams haven't done this sort of thing very often at all. Here are all the years from 1900 through 2015 where the Cubs began 2-0:
1902, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1917, 1921, 1922, 1931, 1934, 1938, 1946, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1958, 1969, 1973, 1974, 1984, 1984, 1995
2-0 really only means you have 160 more games to go. That list is a strange mix of pennant-winning and playoff years, contending years, and bad seasons. But only 21 times in 116 years? You'd think there would have been more.
The Cubs not only got a fine outing out of Lester, who wound up allowing just the one run in six frames, but turned on the power bats. Joe Maddon put Matt Szczur in the starting lineup against the lefthander Andrew Heaney, and that move paid off:
I, personally, am happy to see the embed codes back for MLB.com video. Szczur also singled later, and the power display continued with Anthony Rizzo's first homer of the year with a man on base in the third, part of a four-run inning:
And Dexter Fowler, who had three hits on Opening Night, had two more Tuesday, including his first homer of the season:
All Heaney got for his trouble was a bloody nose (no embed code available for that one -- maybe that's a good thing).
Four home runs in two games? Yeah, that works. It's the time of year when you can make silly "paces" out of this, so that would be 324 home runs for the year if they kept it up, which they won't. The team record for home runs in a season is 235, set in 2004. Now that one might be within reach. The major-league record for homers in a season is 264, set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. With the power this team has? Maybe even that one might be possible.
Lester pitched very well in this one, building off the very good outing he had in his final spring outing. This was a much better first start than his debut last year; he seemed in command from start to finish and he's scheduled to throw the home opener next Monday.
Cubs relievers, who haven't yet been taxed with anything resembling a save opportunity, were effective in this one: Trevor Cahill would have gotten out of the eighth 1-2-3 if not for an error by Kris Bryant, so Maddon summoned Travis Wood to finish off the inning.
Pedro Strop completed the victory with a 1-2-3 ninth. The Cubs bullpen has not allowed a run yet.
Bryant and Addison Russell have not yet had hits this year, but that's really nothing to be concerned about after two games. Meanwhile, David Ross had two hits, continuing his hot hitting from spring training. Ross didn't have two hits last year until April 24, by which time he had played nine games.
This feels, now, just like the run last August and September did. It's almost too easy; the Cubs get timely hits, outstanding starting pitching and solid relief work. All I can say as they head to Arizona for a four-game series starting Thursday is, "Keep up the good work, guys." This is fun.
Thursday evening, John Lackey makes his Cubs debut against Rubby De La Rosa of the Diamondbacks. But don't go anywhere -- we've got lots coming up today and tomorrow right here, including Heroes & Goats from Tuesday's game at 11 a.m. CT. Josh will have previews of all four full-season Cubs minor league teams, two today, two tomorrow, as those clubs begin their seasons.