Carlos Villanueva made his return to the rotation this afternoon and was good but was on a pitch limit, so the Cubs needed a real big effort from their pitchers, and they got it. Villanueva and Hector Rondon each gave up a run today, but other than that the Cubs pitchers were spotless, all seven of them. Oh, except for Kevin Gregg, leading 3-2 in the ninth the Pirates were down to their last strike when Starling Marte launched a game tying solo shot, gut punch. Matt Guerrier came on in relief and gave the Cubs a chance to win and the Cubs did just that. After loading the bases with nobody out Dioner Navarro hit a game winning sacrifice fly to right field, and just like that the Cubs had a series win, their fourth in their last five. Sure this season is lost, but it is nice to see some positive results on the North Side, finally.
PICTURE OF THE GAME
July 31st is awfully close, here come the Soriano bombs! Alfonso Soriano padded his trade value today while also helping the Cubs dispatch a team they haven’t been able to buy a win against, the Pirates. Soriano blasted two, two-run homers in back to back innings, one in the fourth and another in the fifth. That was all the Cubs needed as Edwin Jackson was stellar, again. Jackson went 5.2 innings giving up one run on four hits while walking two and striking out three to earn his fifth win of the season. The Cubs pen was outstanding today, try to contain your shock and enthusiasm, actually let it run wild, this is a rare occurrence. James Russell, Matt Guerrier, and Kevin Gregg all had scoreless appearances with Gregg picking up his fifteenth save of the year, speaking of trade value.
PICTURE OF THE GAME
No fake rally today boys and girls as the Cubs finally showed some life and came through with a successful rally, no, really! The Cubs were being owned by Johnny Cueto all day and thanks to some questionable behavior from Cueto, the Cubs woke up. Now, I’m not going to get into the problem with waiting to be woke up by the opponent versus being ready at first pitch right now, the point is Cueto woke the Cubs up, and paid for it. Trailing 4-0, the Cubs got one run back in the seventh, and scored three times in the eighth inning, the big blow was an Alfonso Soriano two-run homer to tie the game at four, all the damage was done with two outs. The Cubs went on top for good in then tenth inning as Welington Castillo‘s two out double scored Scott Hairston, and Kevin Gregg shut the door in the bottom half. The bullpen was outstanding in this one, as they worked a combined 5.2 scoreless innings giving up only one hit after Matt Garza left after four.
PICTURE OF THE GAME
I know it sounds funny given the Cubs struggles, but they are playing their best baseball of the year right now. They have played well for the majority of games earlier this year, but now they are putting together more complete efforts and the result is more wins. With the win the Cubs take the series from the Rockies, this is the Cubs second straight series victory, both over winning ball clubs. The Cubs jumped on the Rockies right away as David DeJesus led the game off with a solo home run. After the Rockies got that run back in the second Jeff Samardzija helped his own cause in the third by launching a two run homer to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead. The Rockies pulled to within one run in the sixth but the Cubs broke it open with a three run seventh inning en route to a 6-3 victory. Samardzija earned his second win of the season, his first since opening day, hopefully he can build on that, what was most important for him was finally being able to work deep into a game and control the outcome instead of handing it over to the pen in the fifth or sixth inning.
At The Plate – The Cubs made the most of their hits as they pounded out nine while scoring six times. The top of the order did most of the damage as the Cubs one, two, three hitters were a combined 6-for-10 with three RBI’s, and three runs scored. David DeJesus was 2-for-3 with his fifth home run of the season, an RBI, and two runs scored. Starlin Castro was 2-for-4 with an RBI, and a run scored, he’s now hitting .282 on the season. Anthony Rizzo continues to produce, he was 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, and an RBI, he now has twenty-nine RBI’s on the season. Darwin Barney is starting to find a groove at the plate he was 1-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base, and two runs scored. Jeff Samardzija had a great day all around, he was 1-for-2 with his first home run of the season, two RBI’s, and a run scored.
On The Mound – Really nice to see Samardzija pitch instead of just throw and try to miss bats. He has the stuff to miss bats but also get quick outs, and that’s what he did today. Shark went eight innings giving up two runs on five hits while walking two and striking out seven to earn his second win of the season. James Russell worked just one-third of an inning striking out the only hitter he faced. Kevin Gregg took it from there, things got sketchy, but he was able to get out of the ninth to preserve the win. Gregg worked two-thirds of an inning giving up one run, unearned (on a Gregg error), on two hits.
Up Next – The Cubs welcome the Mets to Wrigley Field for a three game weekend set starting Friday. The Cubs are off tomorrow, their second straight Thursday without a game.
Samardzija goes deep
Samardzija’s strong outing
DeJesus with a sweet grab to end the game
Castro scores in the seventh
Rizzo’s RBI single
Castro with a big insurance RBI
Great defense from the Cubs
DeJesus’ lead-off homer
The Cubs are usually on the other end of these games, I like winning these games WAY more than losing them. The Cubs had nothing going all day as they were being no hit through five innings, then they started to chip away at Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez. The Cubs loaded the bases in the sixth only to come up empty, but it signaled that the Cubs might be ready to make things difficult for the Nats. Gonzalez rebounded nicely in the seventh inning, but Nats manager Davey Johnson decided to pull Gio after only 86 pitches on the day, the Cubs thank you Davey. The Cubs went to work in the eighth as they played some small ball. Navarro singled to lead off the eighth, he was then moved to second on a sac bunt by Barney. Travis Wood pinch ran for Navarro and made a great base running play to tag up on a foul ball behind first base to make it to third with two outs. Starlin Castro delivered as he took a Drew Storen pitch back up the middle for game tying base hit. The Cubs used some aggressiveness in the ninth to take the lead an ultimately win the game. They put the first two guys on in the ninth then Ryan Sweeney struck out, I know I’m not the only Cubs fan to think here we go again. But on the very next pitch Soriano and Borbon executed a double steal and the Cubs finally got a break. Kurt Suzuki‘s throw to third hit Welington Castillo‘s bat and went down the third base line allowing Soriano to score the game winning run. Kevin Gregg was perfect in the ninth to secure the Cubs win, and the series win over the Nats.
At The Plate – As I mentioned the Cubs had nothing going all day long, but woke up just in time. Starlin Castro was 1-for-3 with a walk, and a game tying RBI from the lead-off spot. Cody Ransom had a solid day from the two spot going 2-for-4 with two singles. Dioner Navarro was one of the few guys who were locked in at the plate, he was 2-for-3 in the win.
On The Mound – Another really solid start for Scott Feldman, he had to settle for a no decision but that was better than an undeserved loss. Feldman went six innings giving up one run on five hits while walking three and striking out six. Kyuji Fujikawa was solid, and healthy for the second time this series. Fujikawa worked a scoreless inning while striking out one, very encouraging to see his velocity up near 93-94 MPH. James Russell worked a scoreless eighth inning while walking one to earn his first win of the season. Kevin Gregg was lights out yet again, what else would you expect? Gregg worked a scoreless ninth while striking out two earning his sixth save of the season.
Some good news today on the injury front, the Cubs have activated Kyuji Fujikawa from the DL and he will join the team in Washington tonight. Rafael Dolis was sent back to Iowa, and Kameron Loe refused his assignment to Iowa so he has been released. Fujikawa, assuming he is healthy should calm down a bullpen that has been shaky to say the least. With the emergence of Kevin Gregg as the new Cubs closer they now have a formidable seventh (Russell) eighth (Fujikawa) and ninth (Gregg). Wouldn’t be surprised to see Russell and Fujikawa flipped so that Fuji can ease his way back into the bullpen rotation. On paper at least it looks like the toughest spot for the bullpen will be that middle guy, sixth/seventh innings. Luckily for the Cubs their starting pitching has done a tremendous job of getting the ball to the seventh inning, if they can keep doing that they might start seeing no decisions start turning into wins.
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Carlos Villanueva can’t buy a win as he has left with a lead in five of his seven starts this year, the Cubs pen has blown the lead now in four of those five starts. Villanueva didn’t have his best stuff today but still got into the seventh inning with a 4-3 lead. The usually reliable James Russell took over in the seventh and gave up back-to-back hits which resulted in the Cardinals knotting the game up. Michael Bowden worked the eighth inning and surrendered the game winning run as the Cubs couldn’t generate anything in the final two innings. The bullpen was half the story, double plays and missed opportunities were the other half. The Cubs seemingly had men on base all day long, but grounded into four double plays to thwart any rally they might have had. The Cardinals weren’t much better, but did get the big hit in the eighth inning when they needed it, but they also grounded in to four double plays, odd game in that regard for sure. Really wanted a sweep for the Cubs, and of course they were in position to get one, eventually these blown leads have to stop…..I think.
At The Plate – The Cubs pounded out eleven hits, but could only manage four runs as they were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and they had that double play issue that I already mentioned. Luis Valbuena got a chance in the three spot today and delivered a solid game going 1-for-2 with two walks, and two runs scored. Anthony Rizzo continues to roll, he was 3-for-4 with a double, and a run scored, all of a sudden he is hitting .269 on the season. Cody Ransom continues to hit for the Cubs, he was 2-for-4 with two singles in the loss.
On The Mound – Carlos Villanueva wasn’t at his best, but did more than enough to pick up a win in this one, alas, a no decision for the funny facial hair guy. Villanueva went 6.2 innings giving up three runs on seven hits while walking three and striking out two. James Russell wasn’t his usual self in this one, he was asked to get the last out in the seventh, he did, but not after giving up a run on two hits. Michael Bowden worked the eighth and took the loss, he gave up one run on two hits. Kevin Gregg, the Cubs new closer (officially), worked a scoreless ninth to keep the Cubs in it, he walked one and struck out two.
Up Next – A day off tomorrow. Then a three game weekend series in Washington, the full series preview will be up tomorrow, going to be a tough series for sure.
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