The Cubs’ win over the Atlanta Braves today was a textbook display of good baseball fundamentals and really shows the value of keeping it simple on the diamond.
This team has won 5 of their last 6 and attention to detail seems to be paying off. Both starters and the bullpen have been rock solid as of late. The power has returned to the Cubs bats with plenty of homeruns and extra base hits while defensive play is at a season high largely due to the outstanding performance of Darwin Barney.
There’s another key factor to the Cubs recent success which cannot be overlooked: offense is coming from the most unlikely of places.
Jeff Baker smacked his 2nd homerun of the season (yes you read correctly. Take a minute to peel your jaw off the floor) but best of all? It came off a pinch hit for starter Paul Maholm. Darwin Barney has also found his stride in the batters box despite going 1 for 4 in tonight’s game. His only hit was a leadoff double which eventually brought him around to score.
Not too often you hear those names putting up runs for the Cubs, but that’s not to say that the usual suspects weren’t also joining in on the fun.
Starlin Castro was a bit on the lucky side tonight going only 1 for 3 but managing to plate once. His only hit was a blooper to shallow right which was ultimately unplayable. Regardless, it was effective enough and he managed to plate to keep the Cubs ahead of the Braves in this otherwise close match up. Bryan LaHair continues to prove he can adjust going 2 for 3 and hitting his 14th homerun of the season. He looks determined to get back to his 0.5 HR/Game ratio which he had established at the beginning of the season, and his recent all-star game bid may be the type of motivation he needs in order to return to those productive numbers.
And of course it goes without saying that Anthony Rizzo is disgustingly good at baseball and has exceeded my wildest expectations for the Cubs. He looks like he’s showing no growing pains at all, and hit his 3rd homerun of the season for the Cubs tonight. Keep in mind, he was only called up on June 26th and has 8 games under his belt in a Cubs uniform.
If he can maintain even a 3HR/10Game pace over the remainder of the season, he could easily reach 25 HR this season. That’s some serious power.
Not to say that Rizzo is solely responsible for anything, but the Cubs just look like they want it more since the Rizzo call up. They’re energized, making smart plays, and really seem to be focused on progression as a team. The Rizzo effect lives? You be the judge.
While the bats were busy slugging away, the defense was doing everything it could to keep the braves off the board. Alfonso Soriano gunned down Chipper Jones on a gorgeous throw from left field to catch Chipper trying to score. It was textbook… and very refreshing to see after Soriano’s struggles defensively in previous years. He has yet to commit an error this season.
David DeJesus was busy in center field as well, running down many awkward fly balls and making plays with confidence. That’s his type of game though: be consistently good. I like him more and more each day.
Pitching was far from a problem for the Cubs tonight as Paul Maholm put up a great line score: 6.0 IP, 8H, 1ER, 1BB and 5Ks. That’s not Cy Young caliber pitching, but its certainly enough to earn a team win. Maholm seemed to have some issues hitting a few of his pitches though. His cutter was slightly askew and his curveball looked a little inaccurate, but his slider was effective and his fastball was sufficient. At the end of the day, he let his team make some outs for him and he produced a quality game on the mound for the Cubs. A good ol’ nitty gritty win for the lefty.
James Russell looked about as good as I’ve ever seen him play. He went 2 innings strong and had a clean box other than a walk. He’s credited with his 9th hold of the season and really looks to be getting comfortable in that middle relief position.
Carlos Marmol was in to close things out for the Cubs, and there were some obvious worries when he took the mound. Alas, they were all for not as he struck out 2 and got a simple F4 to end the game. He looked very sharp placing his fastball in good spots and using his classic finisher pitch slider to its full effect. It was great to see him back in such a form, but its no coincidence that his improved play and trade rumors are inter-dependent.
Clutch hitting, good D and steady pitching won the day for the north siders. Im a huge fan of “back to basics” baseball, and the Cubs played that in spades tonight.
The Cubs will wrap up their series with the Braves tomorrow at 7pm Central.
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