The Chicago Cubs continue to play better baseball than they were in the first two months of the season. Welington Castillo returned from his injury this week, while Emilio Bonifacio remains out with his strained oblique. The Cubs got a gem from Jake Arrieta this week, and John Baker helped supply the offense, something I’m sure he hasn’t given me too many opportunities to say this year in a win over the Nationals.
This Week: 3-3 Season: 34-46 5th in the NL Central
Over the last few weeks while the Cubs have been playing improved baseball, it seems each time they near ten games within .500, the good fortune fades and they drop a few in a row. Playing .500 baseball is something that I’ll take after early season expectations, but I can help but feeling this team is slightly better than that. They win a few, now I expect wins? The ever optimistic Cubs fan. Here’s what the last week gave us:
The Good: Jake Arrieta. He took a perfect game into the 7th inning against the Reds, and once again showed great command, finishing with a line of 7 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 9 K. How good has Jake been? His ERA actually went UP after the performance (1.98 to 2.05).
The Bad: Jeff Samardzija struggles again, albeit not till a 55 minute rain-delay threw him off. Through four innings, he looked sharp, and was falling into a groove as Luis Valbuena tied the game in the bottom of the 4th with a two-run homer as the rain started to fall. Once they returned from the delay, it was not the Samarzdija from the first four. His first pitch was launched into the stands, and he’s allow four runs total before leaving after the fifth. It was his second shortest outing of the season.
As we grow ever closer to the trade deadline, every performance of an individual means something. Either to their trade value, or their long-term value to the Cubs. We can’t help but think that way as the media seems to only focus on who will be traded, and who is awaiting in the minors.
But this current Cubs team is showing more confidence as a group, and the core, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, are performing as everyone had hoped they would. With the occasional “role player” stepping up, like John Baker with his four RBI performance in the 7-2 win, the Cubs look like a solid team. But inconsistency continues to be the Achilles heel of this team. Add that to minimum output from the outfield position, and the offensive woes become pretty obvious.
The Cubs dropped two of three to the Reds, but in game one an implosion by Hector Rondon in the ninth, which included a grand slam from Devin Mesoraco made a 1-1 game entering the inning look much worse. Once again you can’t expect one run to win games. But Rondon in his first season as a closer has fared well. So you have to chalk this up as a bad outing.
The first two games of the four game set with the Nationals started well. Washington had entered the game playing well, and I don’t think they expected the Cubs to open the series against them like they did. The Cubs may not be a great team, but you can’t fault the effort, and Junior Lake showed that in Thursday’s 5-3 win. Lake tracked a fly ball to the wall with a full head of steam, crashing into a steel door while making a sliding attempt. The sound of Lake hitting the door was horrendous. But after a few minutes of be being down, Lake got up, and wanted to continue on. He left the game as a precaution as he did hit his head but showed no concussion symptoms.
Justin Ruggiano would supply a clutch RBI double, answering the Nats who had tied it in the top half of the seventh. Late-inning victories as these are always a good show of a teams fight, as they simply aren’t going to roll over. I hate the word “pesky”, but the Cubs are just that this year. They’re beating good teams, as technically, being one of the worst in baseball makes anyone you play a better team.
Unfortunately after the first two games of the series, the scheduled twinbill on Saturday didn’t go so well. Dallas Beeler made his Major League debut, and pitched very well (6 IP, 1 R, o ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 6 K), but Gio Gonzalez had Cubs hitters off-balance all day. The Cubs finished game one with only three hits, and Beeler collected one of those in his first at-bat.
Game two fared no better for the Cubs bats. Samarzdija struggled after the delay, and aside from Valbuena’s home run, the Cubs couldn’t push across any more runs. They managed only two runs on nine hits in the day/night doubleheader.
Players of the Week
The Cubs Bullpen - The pen pitched well all week, and has been a nice surprise for what looked to be a weak spot early on. Pedro Strop, Wesley Wright, James Russell, Brian Schlitter and Carlos Villanueva all had scoreless performances this week. They did what they needed to do to keep the Cubs in ballgames.
John Baker - As I said before, I don’t often get to talk about Baker, so he gets the nod this week. He only went 3-for-11 on the week, but drove in four runs that the Cubs needed in helping them to a victory. Catchers can often toil behind the scenes, so Baker gets his due this week.
The Cubs will open a three game set with the Boston Red Sox tonight at Fenway, and will then travel to D.C. to take on the Nationals again. Keep voting for Rizzo and Castro for the All-Star Game, every vote matters.