Fresh off of their sweep of the sinking Pirates, the Cubs continued to relish their role as spoiler over the weekend. This time their victim was the Reds, who like the Pirates have been struggling to keep up with the likes of the Brewers and Cardinals at the top of the NL Central.
Ryan Dempster was the pitcher that got the Cubs winning streak started earlier in the week, and the Cubs ace kept the momentum going by holding the visiting Reds to just two runs in six innings of work despite issuing an ugly six walks. Dempster was in line for the win thanks to his offense jumping on Reds right from the start. Starlin Castro led off the bottom of the first with a single, and lightening fast Tony Campana recorded an inside the park home run on a liner down the left field foul line (video courtesy of MLB.com). The ball and the Reds left fielder hit the padded wall behind the Cubs bullpen, and both objects bounced off the wall. The untouched ball made its way to the ivy covered left field wall with the scrambling outfielder going after it as Campana neared third base, and by then it was a given that the Cubs rookie was going to come all the way home without a play for his first Major League home run.
Tyler Colvin has been trying to make the most of his more consistent playing time with Kosuke Fukudome gone, and he added to the Cubs scoring with a homer of his own, his fourth of the season. Carlos Pena added a sac fly in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded and no outs to add an insurance run, but the Cubs were not able to capitalize further. Thankfully the Cubs bullpen was able to make the small lead hold up despite Kerry Wood allowing the Reds to get within one run before Carlos Marmol closed out the ninth inning for his 24th save of the season.
On Saturday, the Cubs offense decided explode for eleven runs from the third inning to the sixth inning, avoiding any late inning drama. Carlos Zambrano had given up two runs in the top of the third to give the Reds the early lead, but it was his bat that sparked the Cubs offensive outburst. He led off the home team’s scoring with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the third from the left side of the plate, his second of the season.
Despite three errors by the visiting Reds, the Cubs offense chose to earn an honest living, with only one run being charged as unearned to the Reds pitching staff. Castro and Pena did the bulk of the damage, with the Cubs sophomore star recording four RBI from the leadoff spot. Pena had three RBI of his own on a 2 for 3 day at the plate, and both also had two runs apiece. Alonso Soriano also chipped in a RBI and two runs with a solid 2 for 3 day that included two walks, and Reed Johnson continues to be a steal minor league signing, coming in to score three times while collecting a couple hits to bring his season average to .325.
The big lead allowed Zambrano to collect the win despite allowing four walks, in addition to allowing manager Mike Quade to get Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow some work instead of having to use the back end trio of Sean Marshall, Wood, and Marmol for the second straight game.
The Cubs were six outs away from a series sweep of the Reds that would have extended their winning streak to eight games, but their undefeated run in the month of August came to an end on Sunday afternoon. Despite starter Randy Wells giving up six earned runs, the Cubs offense was able to chip away at the Reds lead and help keep Wells in the ballgame through the seventh inning. Castro got the scoring started with a solo shot in the bottom of the third, his fifth of the season.
Blake DeWitt hit a two run homer in the sixth inning to bring the Cubs within two, and the Cubs put together a three run rally in the seventh to wrestle the lead from the visitors. Marlon Byrd was the Cubs offensive player of the game, going 3 for 3 with two RBI doubles, the second of which came during that three run rally. Unfortunately Geo Soto struck out with the bases loaded to end that frame, and in an ironic and unfair twist of fate, it was Byrd slipping in shallow center field after having called Castro off on a blooper that opened the door for the Reds to rally back themselves.
The typically consistent Marshall was not able to work around that mishap, and he ended up being charged with two runs in the frame in just 1/3 of an inning of work, causing his ERA to jump to 3.04.
At least the Cubs won their second straight series in a row, and if they can continue to play like this, they should make it three in a row against the visiting Nationals in a series that starts tonight.