The Braves came into Wrigley Field seeking to return the favor for the series the Cubs won in Atlanta a week and a half ago. The visiting team got off to a good start in accomplishing that with a fairly easy win over the Cubs on Monday night. The Braves starter kept the Cubs scoreless despite giving up eight hits, but the credit actually goes to the Cubs offense for failing to get the clutch hit to drive in some runs. As has been the case all season long, the lack of clutch hitting resulted in an ugly 15 runners left on base as a team.
Ryan Dempster provided a decent start, scattering single tallies over six innings of work while striking out eight, but those three runs were one too many considering the Cubs got shut out. The other bright spot was the perfect night from the bullpen trio of James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, and Kerry Wood. On a playoff contending team that would have been the boost to get the offense going late, but the Cubs have reverted to their non contending team personality.
Casey Coleman was having the best start of his 2011 season on Tuesday night, hitting his spots and throwing strikes to cruise into the fourth inning. But a failed bare hand attempt by Aramis Ramirez with two outs in that frame led to the unraveling of Coleman. He would end up walking in a run before serving up a grand slam that Jason Heyward tomahawked into center field, falling behind the Braves 0-5.
Coleman settled down a bit the next inning to get him through five innings of work, and in the bottom half the Cubs offense was finally sparked in the series thanks to a lead off homer by Alfonso Soriano. With runners on second and third, Ramirez provided a clutch two out double to bring the score to 5-3. It should be noted that Ramirez, who had been under fire from Comcast SportsNet analyst Todd Hollandsworth earlier this month, had run hard on his double, and actually came around to score from second on an errant throw to first base on a Jeff Baker ground ball that should have ended the inning. Some of us older fans will agree that it is a shame that these days we have to compliment players for doing what they are supposed to do, in this case hustling, but considering the recent criticism it is only fair to give credit when it is due.
Despite jumping back into the game with the four run frame, the Cubs reverted to their Monday night form and were kept scoreless by the Braves the rest of the way despite chances in the sixth, seventh, and ninth, including a hustle double by another favorite target of critics, Soriano. The bullpen was solid again, even with John Grabow having to escape a two out bases loaded jam that he created, and Wood recorded two more strikeouts to give him five for the series in just two innings of work.
It is well known by now that the Cubs have been working with the neighborhood and the city to increase the night games they are allowed per season, but it is still a weird feeling for me to keep writing the word “night” so much on a Cubs home stand. The Cubs had another 7:05 pm start on Wednesday, giving them their fourth straight night game at home this week. Players past and present have pointed to performance decline issues due to so many day games at Wrigley, but in the small sample size of this current week, the Cubs had been hung a “L” the first three nights of the week.
They were able to turn that around on Wednesday. The offense was able to put up a crooked number in the second, highlighted by a two run homer by Soriano and the one man small ball show that is Tony Campana. The speed demon came in to score the third run off a Randy Wells ground ball out after having reached on an error, stealing second base, and taking third thanks to a balk. Mean while on the mound, Wells was pitching like it was 2009, holding the Braves to just two hits and one run while striking out six. It was a solo shot by Chipper Jones that ended Wells night, but it will be curious to see if this outing becomes the turning point for Wells to be his rookie year self for the rest of this season and going into 2012.
The Cubs pen was finally tagged for a run thanks to a solo homer given up by Wood, but Carlos Marmol nailed down the save in the ninth for his 30th of the year, joining Lee Smith in the club of Cubs closers that have recorded back to back 30 save seasons.
That was all the fun the Cubs would get in the series as the day game on Thursday was unpleasant to say the least. Starter Matt Garza has been a victim of a lack of run support all season, but he has also been his own worst enemy by committing fielding errors. He committed his seventh of the year in the first inning of the series finale and compounded it by serving up a homer to Brian McCann. When all was said and done, the Cubs had gifted the Braves four errors, and Garza only lasted five innings while giving up eight hits and six runs (three earned). McCann added a second home run in the seventh for the Braves. In the total the visitors from Atlanta tomahawk chopped seven home runs on their way to winning three out of four in the set.
The Cubs offense continued their anemic play by only mustering up three runs in the first two innings before going scoreless the rest of the game. The highlight of the offense was Marlon Byrd’s seventh home run of the year. The loss marks only the second time this month that the Cubs have lost a series.