If you live in Chicago long enough, the wacky weather becomes normal to you. March felt more like June, April felt more like March, and over the last few days, thunderstorms have kicked off the start of May. That led to delay to the start of Sunday afternoon’s game. The nearly three hour rain delay left Travis Wood a few more hours to dwell on his Cubs debut, and it threw the feeding schedule of the area seagulls out of whack.
What Went Right: Wood’s struggles in Spring Training were well documented, and the decision to start him out in the minors for the 2012 season came as no surprise to anyone. Even his time there did not show much improvement. But with Matt Garza being bit by the flu bug, Wood was called up out of necessity. While the three earned runs and three walks in his box score are not particularly pretty, he was able to limit the damage and had only allowed three hits. Considering his struggles and the circumstances leading to his first start at Wrigley, keeping his team in the game for six innings exceeded expectations.
The bullpen did an excellent job as well, keeping the Dodgers off the scoreboard the rest of the way, including two extra frames that were well handled by interim closer Rafael Dolis. James Russell is currently sporting a 0.87 ERA through 11 appearances after two innings of work Sunday evening. Once the Cubs let him settle in as a reliever and not a starter, Russell began to show that he has the potential to be a quality part of a solid bullpen for the near future. It may be that potential that also gave the new front office more confidence to trade away Sean Marshall in an attempt to restock the farm system.
And of course how can you look past the late inning efforts of the offense. The Cubs almost ended the game in the bottom of the ninth thanks to a Tony Campana double to the right field gap, but settled for a tie ballgame and extra innings when David DeJesus was thrown out at the plate. DeJesus would later use his keen eye for the strike zone to draw the game winning walk with the bases loaded in the 11th.
What Went Wrong: However, the above talk of clutch late inning offense is a bit misleading because the line up had more than their share of chances to do damage throughout the ballgame. Through eight innings the Cubs had out hit the visitors eight to four, and in five of those frames the lead off hitter had reached base for the North Siders. Yet they still trailed the Dodgers 3-2 going into the final inning. While the team did eventually break through for the win in dramatic fashion as noted earlier, the lack of the clutch run scoring hits is an issue that has haunted the team in recent years, including the NLDS embarrassments in 2007 and 2008. It appears this area of weakness is still one that needs to be worked on under the new regime.
What Was Interesting: Starlin Castro ended an inning five times in this extra frame affair, each time doing so with at least one runner in scoring position. To be fair though, he was responsible for driving in the first two Cubs runs in the third with a clutch two out single before being thrown out at second trying to advance on the throw to home plate. As a bit of an indirect result, Bryan LaHair led off an inning five times and was able to reach each time before striking out to start the 10th inning. Unfortunately, LaHair was not able to tally a single run on his stat line as his teammates failed to drive him home all day long.
The Cubs stole the series win from the Dodgers and host the Atlanta Braves for a three game set starting Monday.