Despite losing the series two games to one in Cincinnati, the Cubs certainly pushed the Reds to their limits in all three games. Chicago pushed the home team to extra innings twice in the series and were on the short end of a 1-0 pitchers draw. No matter how sick you are as a Cubs fan of moral victories, the North Siders proved to be better than their early season struggles seem to suggest. The team certainly has plenty to work on, ranging from hitting with RISP to defense to having a more consistent effort from the back end of the bullpen, but there is plenty of season left to hopefully see those improvements take place on the field, even if it is on the way to another sub .500 win loss record.
The starting pitching, among the NL elite in staff ERA so far this season, continues to provide solid outing after solid outing. This series matched up the three best pitchers in the Cubs rotation with the defending NL Central champions and the starters did not back down. Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva continue to exceed expectations and Jeff Samardzija is living up to his title as staff ace. The trio only allowed four runs collectively in the series against an offense that had scored 106 runs prior to the visit by the Cubs. That is a clip of 5.6 runs per game.
The Cubs offense also kept up their knack for the long ball, hitting four more at Great American Ball Park. Two of those were of the clutch variety, with Luis Valbuena and Darwin Barney hitting theirs in extra frames to give their team the lead.
The closer role continues to be curse like to whoever tries to step into the role. While not officially a save situation, Michael Bowden was the latest to blow a final inning lead for the Cubs. The young pitcher was fine during the inning of work while the game was still tied, but after going into the bottom of the 13th with the lead provided by Valbuena, Bowden just could not get the Reds to make three outs. The righty proceeded to allow four hits in the inning and was tagged for three earned runs, with the winning hit off the bat of ex Cub Cesar Izturis.
Other than Samardzija’s bleeding finger on Wednesday afternoon? RISP! So sick of hearing about 0 for RISP! Technically the Cubs went 3 for 22, so not a goose egg in the series. But a .136 batting average in that situation is just as ugly! The irony is that this is one of the areas of improvement that was expected from the new school of thought front office led by Theo Epstein. The failures in this stat category is going to lead this team down the unwanted path towards another 100 loss season. Forget worrying about blown saves because there will be less leads to protect if the offense is not scoring runs. This is the reason why the Cubs pitching staff has one of the best ERAs in the senior circuit, yet the North Siders have one of the worst records in baseball.
The Cubs are in Miami this weekend against a bad team like themselves in the Marlins. If the Cubs can play at the inconsistent team effort level they have been in the past few days, they should be able to win the series at the least and set up the opportunity to win a minimum of 10 games before the month of April ends.