Thanks to thunderstorms down pouring on the Chicago area Tuesday, the Cubs and Padres played a day-night double header on Wednesday. If you are able to spend the day at Wrigley Field, a double header is fun because you can catch two games in one day. But from a record standpoint, playing two is not fun for the team because it is tough to win both games, not to mention tough on the pitching staff. With the Padres having a slow start to the 2011 season, this series was one that the Cubs could have realistically swept had the games played out on their regularly scheduled days. Regardless, the Cubs just fell short of sweeping the double header and the series, but were still rewarded with a four way tie for first place by the end of Wednesday night.
In Matt Garza’s first start as a Cub, he tallied 12 strikeouts along with giving up 12 hits, all singles. The starting pitcher almost repeated the feat in the day game of the double header. Garza finished the day with nine strikeouts while allowing six hits, all singles. Considering the concern over the former Tampa Bay Ray’s fly ball tendencies, so far the strikeouts and lack of extra base hits issued at Wrigley are good to see. Whether these tendencies will keep up once the weather heats up is another story to be saved for a later date.
Garza pretty much cruised through the first five innings before getting himself into a jam in the top of the 6th. He issued a lead off walk to Orlando Hudson after battling the pesky hitter to a 3-2 count that included three straight strikes being fouled away. The first walk issued by the Cubs starter was to the wrong guy as the speedy Hudson promptly stole second. Garza walked the next hitter after battling to a 3-2 count again, and ended up walking the bases loaded before getting out of the jam with an inning ending double play grounder. Ironically, the first two hitters Garza walked in the inning had each struck out twice in their prior at bats.
The Cubs bullpen allowed the Padres to get into more trouble in the 7th inning, thanks to no help from the defense. San Diego loaded the bases again before Sean Marshall tip toed out of the jam. Closer Carlos Marmol blew the save by giving up the tying run which all started with a four pitch walk after getting the first out. Jeff Samardzija took the team and the fans on a rollercoaster ride through the extra frames, including escaping a bases loaded one out pressure cooker that he created for himself. The Shark has shown flashes of what he can be the past couple of games, but his outing on Wednesday showed that he is still battling to be consistent.
Alfonso Soriano threw out a Padre trying to extend a single into a double in the 5th inning. Young shortstop Starlin Castro committed a throwing error to start the top of the 7th inning that sparked a jam for the Cubs bullpen that inning.
The Castro and Darwin Barney duet was finally cooled off, as the table setters for the past week only went a combined 1 for 10 with Castro being held hitless. It was the recently beleaguered Marlon Byrd that helped the Cubs scratch across a run with his RBI single in the bottom of the 3rd, but he still finished the day 1 for 5. Geo Soto went 2 for 4 with a double as he continues to heat up after a slow start. His name is one of the candidates fans have thrown around as an option to replace the struggling Byrd in the three hole, and if the Cubs catcher can continue to hit like he has the past few games, it might be worth a look by manager Mike Quade. The star of the game offensively was Reed Johnson, who came off the bench to hit a line drive rocket under the jet stream winds and into the second row of bleachers for the walk off home run, kicking off a team celebration at home plate for the second straight game.
The Cubs fell just short of another thriller, this one of the comeback variety after falling behind 4-0 early in game two. They got to see an old familiar face on the mound in Aaron Harang, the former long time Cincinnati Red who was on the free agent scrap heap after a rough 2010 season. In the off season the Cubs were rumored to be looking for back of the rotation arms on the cheap, and with the great start Harang has gotten off to for the Padres, you cannot help but wonder how nice of a boost he would have been to the Cubs rotation, especially with Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner on the disabled list right now.
Despite facing a 4-0 deficit early, the Cubs offense did not give up and finally broke through on Harang in the 5h inning. Johnson, the hero of game one, made the most of his rare start in center field by driving in Alfonso Soriano with a double. Unfortunately the scrappy player was a little too aggressive and was thrown out trying to stretch his double into a triple. This mistake came back to hurt the Cubs as Jeff Baker and Kosuke Fukudome followed with back to back singles that would have surely driven in Johnson. Barney followed with a third straight single to drive in Baker.
The only other scoring came off of Soriano’s two run homer in the bottom of the 8th with two outs. Despite getting the tying run on in the 9th, the Cubs comeback efforts fell just short in the 5-4 loss. Reed Johnson finished the game 3 for 4. His performance in the double header may have earned him some more playing time with Byrd and Tyler Colvin struggling so far. Johnson is not the long term answer, but he is the scrappy spark in the outfield as Castro and Barney have been from the infield, and could help keep the Cubs afloat while they wait for Colvin and Byrd to bounce back.
Much of the talk on Cubbies Crib has surrounded the three spot due to Byrd’s struggles and GM Jim Hendry’s recent comments that Castro can be a three hitter. In game two we all got a taste of how that may look when manager Mike Quade inserted the short stop in the third spot in the order. Castro went 1 for 4 with three men left on base, but he did not have a good series overall and cannot be judged after just one game in that spot. Fukudome, Barney, and Soriano were the trio that had two hits apiece. After a minor injury and being pushed down in the order due to Castro’s hot streak at the top, it was good to see Fukudome promptly get two knocks on his return to the lead off spot.
After getting run all over in game one (the Padres had five stolen bases), Geo Soto buckled down to discourage San Diego’s running game in the night cap. Despite having already played in game one, the Cubs catcher got right back behind the plate for game two and put a stop to four stolen base attempts. John Grabow also chipped in a pick off, and the Cubs defense did not commit any errors.
Starting pitcher James Russell was roughed up yet again and may be showing that he is best suited coming out of the bullpen. The young pitcher gave up three home runs early, which is tough to do on a cold night at Wrigley. The lefty has shown to be effective in a relief role, and for the best interest of all parties involved, it may be time to move Russell back into the pen and bring up a spot starter from the minors for the game against the Rockies on April 26th.
Jeff Stevens and the rest of the relievers did a great job keeping the Cubs in the game the rest of the way. Stevens did give up what ended up being the winning run in the 6th inning, but the teamwork from the relievers in game two needs to be commended considering an already long day thanks to the double header being stretched even longer due to the extra innings in game one. Thankfully the Cubs pitching staff has today’s scheduled day off to rest and be ready for the weekend series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.