I am not a fan of moral victories, but I may have to make an exception for Sunday’s game. The Cubs hung with the best team in baseball (record wise) and almost pulled out a series win at Coors Field. The final score was misleading as to just how close this game was.
Cubs ace Ryan Dempster struggled at the start of the game this time around instead of hitting a wall in the 6th or 7th inning. He labored through five frames while giving up seven hits and five earned runs, but his offense backed him up to keep the team in the game until late. Jeff Samardzija strung together a second consecutive quality outing by tossing two scoreless innings in long relief. The Shark must show some progress this season now that he has been given the chance to just focus strictly on pitching in relief, and hopefully his last two outings are a sign of good things to come.
Rookie Marcos Mateo found himself in a runners on second and third jam after a couple of hits that barely maneuvered their way off the gloves of the Cubs defense, but he kept his poise and struck out the next two batters. He got to two strikes on Dexter Fowler when the umpire missed the called third strike that would have ended the inning. Instead, Fowler ended up driving a slider making its way out of the bottom of the strike zone for a shallow Coors Field double to give the Rockies the lead. It was a good pitch that Fowler had swung over higher in the zone during the at bat, and just an example of how close the Cubs were from having a chance to pull out the win in this game.
The Rockies ended up scoring four runs in the frame to tally the final score of 9-5. Despite the bad box score, I am impressed with what Mateo has shown so far. I hope he is able to keep his head up and brush off this appearance. The Cubs bullpen has had some bad outings as a unit so far this April, but the silver lining is that you can also see that they are not very far from being a dominate group that can be lights out as the season progresses, and give the rotation an extra boost knowing that the starting pitcher on any given night can at worst just go five or six innings while keeping the team in the game.
The positive is that the Cubs offense scored in each of the first four innings, thanks to the spark at the top of the order provided by Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney. The Cubs normally struggle against new pitchers they have never faced, and it was good to see the offense give the Rockies Alan Johnson a rude welcome in his MLB debut. But the downside is that the Cubs did not take advantage of all of the chances they got. This includes the first inning when the only run was scored on a double play ground out after Castro and Barney had led off the game with back to back hits. The Cubs did tally two runs in the third inning, but yet again they failed to produce a big inning that should have resulted with Castro and Barney getting on base to lead off the inning.
The Cubs wasted back to back singles by Kosuke Fukudome and Geo Soto in the top of the 6th inning, but the biggest regret may have been not taking advantage of the lead off walk to Alfonso Soriano in the top of the 8th inning. Up until that frame, the Cubs had cashed in on all the walks they had been issued. But Soriano was left stranded at third base, and of course, the Rockies breaking through in the bottom half of the inning was already discussed.
Marlon Byrd snapped a 0 for 17 slump with a single in the 5th inning, but Cubs fans may be starting to grow wary of his production out of the three hole despite having a .292 batting average so far this season. It is a bit unfortunate as the young duo at the top of the order in Castro and Barney have been getting on base, only to see the rally stall a bit with Byrd coming up to bat. But the veteran was an All Star last year and is capable of being a productive hitter out of the third spot in the order. He ended the game on a line drive smash that the Rockies third baseman had to dive for, and hopefully it is a sign that he is seeing the ball a little better.