After dropping the first three games of the series to fall to a 1-5 record, the Cubs sent Matt Garza to the mound to try and salvage at least one game and avoid a sweep. Steve Clevenger got another start behind the plate, and manager Dale Sveum replaced the struggling Marlon Byrd with Reed Johnson in center field, slotting Johnson in the eighth spot in the line up.
What Went Right: In short, almost everything. Garza dominated the Brewers line up Thursday afternoon, racking up nine strike outs while only allowing three hits over 8 2/3 innings of shut out baseball. Mean while, the Cubs offense woke up under some sunshine at Wrigley. They never looked back after a six run third inning. The hit parade during that frame was started by a lead off double by rookie Clevenger. Six hits and six runs later the Cubs had sent all nine men in their line up to the plate, with the inning ending on a double play ball by Bryan LaHair.
The Cubs added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth for good measure. At the end of the day, it was great to see David DeJesus, Starlin Castro, Ian Stewart, and Clevenger tallying multi hit games. In fact all starters with the exception of pitcher Garza registered a hit, as the team ended the day with 13 knocks.
What Went Wrong: On a day when the team as a whole did just about everything right to post a solid victory, it almost would be nit picking to mention the one negative. But the concern I am about to mention stems from last year, and it will be something worth keeping an eye on over the course of the season. Like Jeff Samardzija over the weekend, Garza was only one out away from a complete game, and it was an error that prevented both pitchers from reaching that stat. Except in Garza’s case, it was his own throwing error on a comebacker that extended the game. Garza was pulled due to his pitch count, but throwing errors were a common issue for him in 2011 as well. Hopefully it is not becoming something that is a mental issue for Garza, who is otherwise ace material for the future Cubs rotation.
What Was Interesting: All of the Cubs runs were driven in by singles. In fact, out of the 13 hits the team tallied, only two were for extra bases, and both of those were in the form of a double off the bat of Clevenger. The Cubs flashed some power at the start of the series, and it is good to see that the offense will be able to utilize both approaches to score runs. As for Clevenger, he has brought with him his hot bat from Mesa, and if Johnson getting the nod over Byrd is any indication, we may see Sveum get the back up catcher some more starts over Geovany Soto in the coming days if the starting catcher continues his cold start in the batter’s box.
To wrap this up, Alfonso Soriano had his first stolen base of the season, his second attempt overall so far this season. While everyone is smart enough to know that he will never be the 40-40 player ex GM Jim Hendry thought he was signing at the time, it is interesting to see Soriano already making attempts to revive that aspect of his game. To put this into perspective, the left fielder did not take his first stolen base attempt last season until June, and he finished the year with just two swipes in three tries.
It still has yet to be seen whether this is a true sign that Soriano will at least consider stealing some bases in 2012, it is definitely something Cubs fans will want to keep an eye on. It could be a combination of the team as a whole running more under manager Sveum and the possibility that Soriano’s legs feeling as healthy as they have ever been as a Cub, that leads to some decent production in this stat category for the first time since 2008.