MESA, Arizona — Man, did I pick the wrong Cubs games to watch this weekend.
Cubs hitters pounded out nine home runs in two games against the Reds in Las Vegas over the weekend, a continuation of sorts of the domination they had over that club in 2016. They scored 33 runs overall over the weekend and Sunday they crushed the Reds 22-4.
I don’t have any records of how often a Cubs team has scored 22 runs in a spring-training game, though it’s not in my personal recollection. I can tell you that in the baseball-reference era (since 1913) a Cubs team has scored 22 or more runs only eight times. It last happened August 18, 1995, a 26-7 win over the Rockies in Denver. It hasn’t happened at Wrigley Field since June 3, 1987, a 22-7 win over the Astros.
So whether spring training or regular season, it’s pretty rare.
Anthony Rizzo led off the bottom of the first for the Cubs. Why?
Only reason for Rizzo leading off over Schwarber is that Riz wanted to. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 26, 2017
OK, that’s cool. That led to this:
Albert Almora Jr. also homered in the first inning as the Cubs scored five runs off Tim Adleman. Almora went 3-for-4 with five RBI, and more fun was in an eight-run sixth inning, highlighted by another Almora homer. Bijan Rademacher also homered in that inning, and Charcer Burks added another one in a three-run seventh.
Eddie Butler, who’s looked pretty good this spring, allowed seven hits and two runs in 4⅔ innings, but with a lead that big, he didn’t need to be all that good.
Undoubtedly, all that was fun for the sellout crowd of 11,285 at Cashman Field. Cubs bats look ready to roll for the season, at least against Reds pitching.
What was left of the Cubs didn’t do so well in Mesa. There were only four 40-man roster position players in this game (Jon Jay, Jason Heyward, Matt Szczur and Jeimer Candelario). Alec Mills is the story of this game. He started and looked awful. He didn’t have command and got hit hard in the first inning, allowing four runs on five hits, the big blow a three-run homer by Brett Wallace. It got so bad the Cubs had minor leaguer Jonathan Martinez warming up before that inning was over, even though I’m sure Joe Maddon wanted Mills to go at least three innings. He did that, settling down in the second and third.
Martinez came into the game and struggled, though the four-run rally off him wasn’t his fault. A rare error by Munenori Kawasaki helped lead to a bases-loaded, two-out situation. Jabari Blash, the next hitter, launched a grand slam onto the left-field berm which pretty much ended any chance the Cubs had to win this one, which wound up 9-4 in favor of the Padres.
Besides Mills’ poor performance, the only other thing of significance in the Mesa game was watching Heyward to see how he’s getting along with his swing. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about that because Heyward came to the plate three times and walked all three times. To be sure, a useful skill, but about his swing? Nothing from this one.
Our old friend Trevor Cahill threw five pretty good innings for the Padres, allowing two hits and two unearned runs, striking out eight.
Then the Cubs started putting guys in this game that I literally had never heard of. Someone named Vimael Machin replaced Kawasaki at shortstop. I didn’t know we had anyone by this name in the system; looking him up after the game I discovered he’s a native of Puerto Rico and was the Cubs’ 10th-round pick in 2015. He’s 23 and has played at South Bend and Eugene the last two seasons.
P.J. Higgins, who was the team’s 12th-round pick in 2015, caught the ninth inning. Higgins was converted to catcher at South Bend last year and made Josh’s top Cubs prospect list this year. (Thanks, Josh, for the update.)
Attendance watch: another sellout of 15,411 brings the season total to 195,972 for 13 dates, or 15,075 per date. Last year’s record was an average of 15,078, so with sellouts expected Tuesday and Wednesday, the mark should fall.
Monday night, the entire squad reunites for the third and final date of the spring with the Cleveland Indians, a night game at Goodyear (8:10 p.m. CT). Jon Lester will go for the Cubs and Tyler Olson for Cleveland.