The Cubs have been one of the hottest teams in baseball so far this month, and on Monday they started off the series against the Astros with a win. Carlos Pena got the Cubs on the board right away in the first with a two run double, and journeyman starter Rodrigo Lopez was able to gut five plus innings of work to make those pair of runs hold up until the sixth. It was the top of that frame where Geo Soto matched Pena with a double that drove in another couple runs.
Lopez gave those pair of runs right back in the bottom half, but the Cubs bullpen stepped in and kept the Astros hitless the rest of the way, with the only batter to reach was on a walk by Jeff Samardzija. Kerry Wood came on in the ninth to nail down his first save of the season, working off of his 95 mph fastball to make quick work of the Astros batters.
On Tuesday, For the second straight night the Cubs got off to a quick start on offense, putting another two spot in the top of the first. But the second run came in on a double play ground ball by Marlon Byrd that killed a bases loaded no out threat. The sixth inning was again a favorite inning for the Cubs like Monday night, but this time it was a two run homer by Tyler Colvin that provided the insurance runs.
Ryan Dempster pitched in another solid outing despite issuing three walks. Aramis Ramirez launched a solo shot in the eighth inning that was NASA worthy, making the score 5-2, and Wood had another strong inning of work for his 17th hold. The Cubs were two outs away from clinching their fifth straight series victory, but the bad Carlos Marmol reared his head again. After getting the first out, the Cubs closer gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases. That set the stage for Astros Brian Bogusevic. The pinch hitter fouled off three straight fastballs to get that Marmol offering timed, and then took two nasty sliders for balls without flinching. Marmol tried to come back with the fastball and Bogusevic launched that pitch into center field that still has yet to come down.
In his earlier struggles this season, there was some out loud wondering by the Cubs as to whether Marmol was tipping his pitches. After watching that final at bat on Tuesday night, that concern has resurfaced if you ask me. Despite dwelling near the bottom of the NL Central standings, this was a heart breaking loss for a Cubs team that was riding high this month. This was visibly evident when the Cubs television cameras found Ramirez sitting in disbelief before the telecast ended.
The question for Thursday was to see whether the Cubs would bounce back to continue their hot play, or if the blown save in grand slam fashion was the start of another slide back to the mediocre play seen in the first four months of the season. The Cubs grabbed the lead first thanks to a Ramirez two run homer, but call up Casey Coleman gave the runs right back in the bottom of the third. Soto’s solo shot in the fourth regained the lead for the Cubs, only for Coleman to give up the lead gain in the bottom frame.
Coleman ended up allowing 10 hits in just three plus innings of work as he continues to struggle to replicate his minor league success in the Major League. Being a finesse pitcher instead of a power pitcher does not make it easy for him to survive at this level, but his offense did not do him any favors by going 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position. If the Cubs front office continues with their pursuit to contend in 2012, Coleman figures to not be a part of their rotation plans for the near future. As for the rest of the 2011 season, it remains to be seen how the latest blown save will affect the next few games, but Wednesday afternoon’s loss was not a good sign.