Through seven innings the Cubs risked losing the opening series to the Pirates, the perennial NL Central non contenders that gave the Cubs fits last season. It is very early, but this game was big if the Cubs had any plans of having a good start to the 2011 season. On to the game notes.
Carlos Zambrano was able to spread out three runs over six innings, including a lead off home run in the 7th inning. He was unable to continue after that due to his annual bout with cramps. The other concern was the three walks he issued, the first which led off the game and resulted in the first run. Considering Zambrano has a history of slow Aprils, Saturday’s outing was a positive one.
The Cubs bullpen for the second day in a row lived up to the billing of being the greatest strength of this team. Manager Mike Quade was able to line up his relief pitchers in what should be a sign the game is over in favor of the Cubs as the season goes along. Despite being down three runs, he was able to trot out Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall in the 7th and 8th innings respectively, to keep the Cubs hopes of coming back alive.
Carlos Marmol made his first appearance of 2011 and blew away all three hitters he faced with strikeouts to notch the save. If this trio can be lights out, they can shorten the game to six innings for the Cubs starters, assuming the starting pitcher is not cruising himself.
The Cubs were error free for another day. Zambrano remembered to cover first base on a ground ball to Carlos Pena in the 2nd inning, and in the 3rd inning Big Z covered first base again to complete the back end of the double play to get him out of the jam.
On Opening Day the Cubs offense struggled to get the big hit despite having several chances to break through with runs. On Saturday, the Cubs offense went hitless until Zambrano doubled in the 3rd inning. Lead off hitter Jeff Baker started the 6th inning with a double of his own, but was left stranded there as the middle of the order could not do their job.
On the brink of starting the season 0-2, the Cubs offense finally woke up in the 8th inning. Pinch hitter Kosuke Fukudome led off the inning with a walk and took second on a wild pitch with Starlin Castro batting. The young shortstop hit a double to bring in Fukudome, and Castro came in to score on a Pirates error for the second straight day after the Pittsburgh first baseman could not handle a Marlon Byrd ground ball. With two outs and two strikes on him, the hitless Alfonso Soriano came through with a single that looped and dropped into right center field to tie the game up at three a piece.
That is when manager Quade turned to Blake DeWitt, who’s Spring struggles have been well documented. Despite losing out on a bid to be part of the second base platoon, the infielder hit a clutch two run opposite field double to put the Cubs ahead to stay.
The lack of offense for the first 16 innings of the season have been concerning considering that the Cubs offense is the weakest aspect of the team right now. But the 8th inning outburst gives a little hope that the players that did struggle this past Spring will be able to turn it around for the regular season.