Cubs Sweep Sea Sick Pirates


Coming into the four game series, the Cubs and Pirates did not have much in common. The home team was battling as a surprise contender for the NL Central crown while the men from Chicago were looking to just get through what has been a terrible season. But one thing both teams had in common was that they were dealing with rough road trips.

Pittsburgh was the final stop on the Cubs road trip, and their trip started by suffering a sweep in Milwaukee. The Cubs losing skid hit five games in a row in St Louis before salvaging a win in the series finale on Sunday. For the Pirates, they had been swept in Philadelphia after splitting a four game set in Atlanta. The men in black and yellow were probably looking forward to some home cooking on their return to PNC Park.

But the visiting Cubs would proceed to be rude guests. Carlos Zambrano took the mound in game one and set the tone for the Cubs starting rotation for series. His solid six inning effort while only allowing one run bought time for the offense to put up a crooked number and take a lead. Even a bad outing by reliever Kerry Wood, who allowed the Pirates to creep back into the game by giving up two runs in the eighth, could not derail the Cubs from taking game one.

The Cubs also overcame Derrek Lee’s single handed effort to make his Pirates debut a fateful win for the home team. The former Cub must not have thoroughly enjoyed his solo homer in the fourth off Zambrano, whom he had the verbal altercation with in the dugout during a game a couple seasons ago. Lee also hit a homer off former buddy Wood as well.

But the offense picked Wood up by tallying an insurance run in the top of the ninth, and thankfully that was more than enough for Carlos Marmol,  who tossed a clean inning with one strikeout to collect his 21st save. It appears he has gotten the closer role back, but more on that later.

In game two of the series, it was the offense that allowed starter Randy Wells to calm down and follow up Zambrano’s effort with a strong showing of his own. The Cubs were hitting home runs all night long as if they were participating in extended batting practice. The line up teamed up to tally six home runs off Pirates pitching, and the Cubs jumped out to a ridiculous 10-2 lead by the end of the fourth inning. The fourth inning!

The home run derby contestants included Tyler Colvin, Aramis Ramirez, Geo Soto, Alfonso Soriano, and Marlon Byrd. Colvin’s landed in the river behind right field for a nice little swim, and Soriano edged his teammates by collecting two home runs on the night. It was good to see Colvin having success at the plate after literally an up and down season that has seen him bounce between the Majors and AAA. Soriano has also been heating up as of late, and while it may be too little too late in terms of suckering another team to take him this summer, a good finish by the slugger can at least get trade talks started in the off season.

With the offensive out burst, all Wells had to do was to throw strikes and eating some innings instead of worrying about giving up runs and trying to be perfect with each pitch. He tallied seven strikeouts in his six innings of work and showed that he can be a capable member of the Cubs rotation if he throws strikes and makes his pitches. I still believe he can replicate the success he had in his rookie season, although he would be a better fit for the back end of the rotation rather than following up Ryan Dempster and Zambrano. But that is a discussion best left for the off season.

On Wednesday night it was Matt Garza’s turn to put in a solid starting performance. In truth though, he has been no stranger to quality starts, as he had been tossing them all month long in July. Unfortunately for his personal stats, his teammates were not able to support him convert those strong outings into wins.

Garza and Pirates starter Charlie Morton locked horns in a pitchers duel that almost had both match each other eye for an eye in stats. Each starter went seven innings of shut out ball with seven strikeouts and two walks, but Garza did Morton one better by only allowing four hits compared to five given up to the Cubs.

When all was said and done, it was Starlin Castro’s solo blast in the top of the eighth inning that was the deciding run. The homer allowed Garza to be in line for the win despite not staying on the mound to pitch the eighth, and the duo of Sean Marshall and Marmol were able to make the lone run hold up for the win. His teammates still owe him a couple more wins, but Garza will gladly take this one in what hopes to be a more rewarding month of August for him in the win column.

Riding high on their first four game winning streak of the season, the Cubs were looking to sweep the reeling Pirates on Thursday night. And the visitors seemed well on their way to that goal after jumping out to a 4-0 lead thanks to some more homers by the Cubs offense. Tonight it was the trio of Soto, Carlos Pena, and Blake DeWitt that collected home runs, with Pena regaining the team lead at 21 home runs, and DeWitt almost matching Colvin for longest drive to right field.

But credit the seemingly dying Pirates on mustering a comeback. They finally got to spot starter Rodrigo Lopez with a six run fourth. The biggest blow ironically came from the Pirates starting pitcher, who hit a bases clearing double despite hitting under .100 for the season.

With the horrible season the Cubs have been through so far this season, they could have easily folded and settled for the brief success they experienced in the past few days. But the Cubs bullpen was able to hold down the Pirates  the rest of the way despite the early exit by Lopez, and the Cubs offense showed that they could also score runs via small ball.

In the top of the eighth, the Cubs staged a three run rally thanks to a collection of singles mixed in with a hit batter, a walk, and a sac fly. The Cubs found themselves back in the lead at 7-6 and Marmol again was able to protect the one run lead with no drama, recording his 23rd save of the season and his fourth in five days. I guess the Cubs have their closer again. Welcome back Marmol, it is good to see you again.

In a strange twist, it is now the sea sick Pirates that are reeling despite being in the top half of the NL Central, while the Cubs are currently one of the hottest teams in baseball win streak wise, joining the likes of the Yankees and Phillies while holding down the fifth spot in the divison standings. This may mark the turning point of the 2011 season at which the Pirates finally came back down to Earth. Mike Quade talked of the uncomforting spoiler roll a few days ago, and at least for the Pirates the Cubs have certainly played that role to the definition. Stay tuned.