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Ninth inning rally falls short as Cubs lose to Rockies, 7-5

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Final. 7. 108. 5. 9

A methodical ninth-inning rally on behalf of the Chicago Cubs’ offense fell short on Saturday afternoon in Mesa, as that first win of the spring continued to elude Joe Maddon‘s club in a 7-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Matt Szczur led off the ninth with a solo blast to center off Rockies right-hander Justin Miller, cutting the Colorado lead to 7-4. Kyle Schwarber then came off the bench to pinch-hit for David Ross, but failed to reach base, grounding out to first for the first out of the inning.

Later in the inning, a bases-loaded walk to Taylor Teagarden pushed in a run, courtesy of Carlos Penalver, who singled earlier in the frame, pulling the Cubs within two. That was enough to end the day for Miller, who was replaced by Brooks Brown – setting up a showdown between Brown and Mike Baxter.

However, Baxter lost the duel, grounding out to first to end the game and send the Cubs Maddon’ to their third loss of a still-winless spring campaign. Just one inning earlier, Baxter drove in Albert Almora with a sacrifice fly – after the young Cubs’ outfielder legged out a hustle double earlier in the frame.

Colorado (1-3) opened the scoring early on against Chicago right-hander Jason Hammel (0-1, 13.50) – when Nolan Arenado lined a three-run blast in the bottom of the first.

Hammel, who is slated as the Cubs’ third starter heading into the season, lasted two innings, allowing the aforementioned three runs on four hits. A series of six Chicago relievers combined to pitch the final six innings – allowing two earned on four hits. Colorado did not score after the fifth.

After the Arenado blast, Cubs slugger Kris Bryant answered with a home run of his own – a two-run shot to left-center off Brett Marshall.

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The Rockies added runs in the third and fifth, as well as a pair of tallies in the sixth – as the club picked up its first win of the 2015 Cactus League season. On the other side of things, Szczur led the Chicago offense with a pair of base hits – the only Cubs player with more than one knock.

What Stood Out: 

Albert Almora has looked sharp again early this spring in a pair of games, with a .500 average and his ever-present hustle factor.

The young Chicago outfielder turned what would have been a single to most players into a double in the eighth – showcasing a grit and focus that has been notably absent on the big league club in recent years. Maddon has focused extensively on respecting the game this spring and it appears that Almora is taking notes.

Last season, he batted .270/.291/.392 between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, but after struggling a great deal with the Smokies (his OPS fell over 100 points after his promotion), he’s likely to be back with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate to start 2015.

What’s Next: 

The Cubs (0-3-1) will take on a Texas Rangers ball club that received bad news on Saturday, with ace Yu Darvish potentially missing the entire season due to an elbow injury that could require Tommy John surgery.

The Rangers have not yet announced their starting pitcher, but 2014 breakout right-hander Jake Arrieta will take the ball for Chicago – making his Cactus League debut.

Next: Darvish injury a cautionary tale for Cubs fans in 2015

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