Cubs Swat Pesky Nats


Yet another day of rain pushed back the start of the series against the Nationals to Tuesday night. The Cubs were looking to bounce back from their first loss in the month of August and their chances of doing so looked good with Matt Garza taking the mound. The Cubs starter had been roughed up by these same Nationals last month in Washington, but in the series opener he was able to post a solid start, tallying nine strikeouts in six innings of work. He went toe to toe with Chien Ming Wang, who flirted with a no hitter, before two mistakes in the sixth inning cost Garza a couple home runs and a 3-0 deficit.

Tony Campana pinch hit for Garza to lead off the bottom of the sixth and broke up Wang’s no hit bid with an infield single off the first baseman’s glove. The speedster collected his 13th stolen bag of the season but was stranded by Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, and Blake DeWitt. James Russell, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Marmol combined to close out the game with three perfect innings and six strike outs combined to keep the team in the game, but the offense could only muster a solo homer by Castro in the eighth inning to conclude the scoring for the night.

The celebration started early on Wednesday evening, with the Cubs organization taking time to honor Ron Santo with the unveiling of his statue just outside of Wrigley. On the playing field, the team made sure the night concluded with a happy ending. The Cubs offense collected 10 hits, Santo’s uniform number, on their way to scoring four runs. Geo Soto got the Cubs on the board with a solo shot in the bottom of the second to tie the game at 1-1. The Cubs catcher would later flash his catcher’s speed to score from first on an Alfonso Soriano double to put the Cubs up 2-1.

Fan favorite and grinder Reed Johnson added a solo shot of his own to extend the lead in the fifth. Jayson Werth of the Nationals hit a home run of his own to keep the visitors within one in the sixth inning, but Soriano responded right back with a homer of his own in the bottom half to regain the two run cushion for the home team while also joining the 20 homer Cubs club. Fifth starter Rodrigo Lopez was able to make the 4-2 lead hold up with 5 2/3 innings of work and the help of his bullpen. Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall held down the fort and Marmol recorded his 25th save of 2011 by striking out the side.

The day time rubber match on Thursday provided some late inning drama for both teams as each side fought for the series win. The Nationals nicked a run off of Ryan Dempster in the first, but the Cubs ace settled down the rest of the way to post a quality start. He finished with six strike outs in seven innings of work while only allowing three hits and the lone run. A rare Soriano triple drove in Marlon Byrd to even the score in the fourth, and the back to back jacks by Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena put the Cubs up 4-1 in the seventh. The offense has homered in nine straight games, including each game of this series to swat away the Nats.

The Cubs pen, which had been solid in the first two games, allowed the Nationals to start creeping back. Samardzija gave up a run in 1/3 of an inning of work, and Marshall had to be lifted before even recording an out after giving up two hits. Wood strike out the only two batters he faced to shut down the threat, but Marmol made things nervous in the ninth by allowing a run before walking the tight rope to his second straight save in as many days.

Just when you are ready to say Marmol is back, he makes you nervous with an outing like this. Seeing him toss five strikeouts both nights before Thursday were a positive sign, and despite the drama yesterday afternoon, he recorded two more strikeouts. Unfortunately with Marmol’s pitching motion and with the nastiness of his slider, it is a thin line between racking up strikeouts versus issuing walks, of which he also issued two of.