Cubs vs Pirates Series Finale 4/3/11

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After the thrilling 8th inning come back yesterday, the Cubs were looking to start the season off with a series win.

OFFENSE

As Jordan mentioned earlier today, there were a few changes made to the Cubs line up for the rubber match. It is hard to determine whether it was the changes or the big 8th inning on Saturday that woke up the Cubs offense a bit, but manage Mike Quade moved Starlin Castro up to the lead off spot, Darwin Barney into the two hole, and Tyler Colvin made his second straight start in right field despite a pretty good start to the season for Kosuke Fukudome.

Barney helped trigger the Cubs offense today with a lead off single in the 4th inning, and came in to score when Carlos Pena just missed a grand slam, settling for a two run double instead. Castro lead off the 5th inning with a triple, and Barney was in the middle of the action again, as he hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Castro as the tying run. The Cubs have been raving about Barney’s knack for situational hitting this past Spring, and he came through once again.

Meanwhile, Castro looked very comfortable in the lead off spot, tallying two triples on the day in which he finished 3 for 4. Alfonso Soriano followed up his clutch performance from Saturday with the go ahead home run to lead off the 6th inning.

PITCHING

All Spring there was concern from fans over the struggles Matt Garza was having. In his official Cubs debut at Wrigley Field, he was able to put his Spring performance behind him. Garza notched a career high 12 strikeouts, but also matched that with allowing 12 hits, something he was not happy about. But to his credit, all 12 hits were only singles, and he was able to spread his three earned runs over seven innings. Overall it would have to be agreed that his debut was a good one.

The Pirates continued their attempt to single the Cubs to death, collecting two more against set up man Kerry Wood, before succeeding against Carlos Marmol. The Cubs closer, who was lights out just less than 24 hours earlier, started the trouble by walking the first batter he faced in the 9th. The Pirates tallied two more singles to bring their total to 16 for the game, and the last one ended up being one jab too much, as Marmol blew the save.

DEFENSE

The Cubs committed their first error of the 2011 season, and ironically it was Gold Glove caliber first baseman Pena that was the culprit. However the new Cub’s mistake did no damage thanks to a nice throw from right fielder Colvin on a fly ball to nail the runner tagging up and trying to score.

But in the end, it was a mental error that helped the Cubs blow the game in the 9th. On an infield single to shortstop, the young Castro made an ill advised throw to first despite having no chance of getting the runner out. Pena was lucky just to get a hold of the throw, but the damage had already been done as the throw allowed Cub killer Neil Walker to to score the go ahead run. If Castro holds onto the ball, we are looking at a tied ballgame. The killer is that even if Castro had made the play, the inning would not have ended as it would have only been the second out.

Castro made a similar late throw that he should have just eaten in Saturday’s game, but that particular play did not come back to haunt the Cubs. Regardless, this is just one of the growing pains all involved will have to deal with as we watch the young star in the making continue to grow. The phenom’s bat alone has been a spark for this team since he came up last season, and with more games under his belt, he will learn to harness his skills rather than believing his young arm and range can make any impossible play.