After a month and a half of Spring Training talk, it feels good to be talking about Opening Day and a regular season game. But the excitement was dampened by rain early on during the game at Wrigley, and by the end of the afternoon, we were left with disappointment. On to the game notes.
Ryan Dempster was really excited about his Opening Day honors, as he started the game off by throwing three straight balls. But he settled down to cruise pretty easily through the first four innings, racking up four strikeouts along the way. But the Cubs ace came unraveled in the top of the 5th inning. He did not help himself by issuing two walks to load the bases, and gave up a grand slam to Cub killer Neil Walker.
Dempster issued two more walks in a shaky 6th inning and got tagged for two more runs in the 7th frame by giving up a home run to Andrew McCutchen. He was not able to finish the 7th inning and finished with an ugly box score line despite seven strikeouts. We saw a few players perform opposite to what we had seen in Spring Training, and Dempster’s poor outing was one of them.
Jeff Samardzija nearly allowed the Pirates to break the game open in the top of the 9th, thanks to two walks that he issued. But he was able to get out of the jam, and the Cubs bullpen marked their first day on the job for 2011 with a scoreless effort.
How about talking about a positive? After errors were a hot topic regarding the Cubs in March, the defense was able to start the regular season off with a clean game defensively. Maybe my manual bowling score “wall” idea worked? Starlin Castro made two nice plays at shortstop, robbing a lead off single up the middle to start the game with some help with a dig at first base by Carlos Pena, and turning an inning ending double play in the 9th after snagging a hard line drive.
The offense continued the good habit they started in Spring of scoring in the 1st inning. Castro began his campaign to prove that his rookie season was just the start of a great career, and his heads up base running allowed him to score all the way from first base thanks to a throwing error by the Pirates on a hard ground ball by Marlon Byrd, who advanced to second.
Castro was in the middle of the action again in the 3rd inning, scoring on a bases loaded ground out by Pena. Castro finished the game 3 for 5. His double play partner Darwin Barney had a great Opening Day debut as well, going 2 for 4 with a run. Aramis Ramirez, who is out to bury memories of a bad 2010 season, hit the ball hard all day in his 2 for 5 effort, but he did lead the offense with five runners left on base.
After an uninspiring Spring that had all Cubs fans bemoaning the lead off hitter situation, Kosuke Fukudome was a positive surprise, going 2 for 4 with a walk and a RBI. He does have a history of hitting well in April, so hopefully that is something he can keep up for April 2011.
The Cubs had their chances to come back in this game, but they could not break through with a big rally to help pick up the rare wild start by Dempster.
With the Cubs facing a left handed starter Saturday afternoon, it will be interesting to see what line up manager Mike Quade goes with. Jeff Baker was one of the options he tried out in Spring for the lead off spot, and the infielder kills left handed pitching, but he would have to replace Barney, who played well, or take over for the left handed Pena at first base. Reed Johnson could be an option if the manager chooses to sit the left handed Fukudome despite a good Opening Day performance, or if Marlon Byrd’s stiff back causes the Opening Day center fielder to sit out game two. What ever combination Quade ends up deciding on, let us hope that it is a winning formula for the second game of the season. The Pirates were a thorn in the side of the Cubs in 2010, and if this team has any hopes of proving critics wrong, they need to start with winning against teams they should be beating.