It takes a sense of humor to sometimes watch these Chicago Cubs. There’s times when it is funny because you consistently see a team play so poorly, only to have flashes of brilliance. Then there are times where it all seems like a cruel joke, just for us. Maybe that’s just baseball.
All season, the cruel jokes have been on Ryan Dempster. Consistently not getting run support from the team, all but a few of Dempster’s quality starts were squandered. In his previous 18 starts, the Cubs had averaged less than three runs. No decisions with the bullpen giving up late runs and/or the Cubs’ inability to score. Tuesday was a perfect storm of a sputtering offense coming to life and a hard luck pitcher throwing his best game of the season.
Run support? Not a problem. Alfonso Soriano, Bryan Lahair, and Jeff Baker all went yard in the Cubs’ eventual 10-0 rout against division rival Milwaukee Brewers. Soriano’s bomb staked Dempster to a 3-0 lead in the 1st inning. David DeJesus, Darwin Barney, Steve Clevenger, and Adrian Cardenas also contributed RBI in the thumping. Usually, when a team bangs out 10 runs, you’d commend them for patience at the plate and timely hitting. They may have gotten some timely hitting, but the Cubs weren’t very patient at the plate. Striking out 14 times in the game, a season high, 10 were against starter Yovani Gallardo. His strikeout total was also a season high.
The real story of the night was Dempster. He stymied the Brewers with three hits over seven innings. Not to mention, he was perfect through five innings. The closest comparison I could make was Greg Maddux. That’s how uniquely dominant Dempster was. He wasn’t overpowering with his fastball. But, he was able to locate his off-speed pitches. Most impressive was the contact he was initiating from hitters: none. The Brewers’ hitters were swinging early, but never getting a solid bat on the ball. Dempster fielded four balls nudged back to him and there were a number of lazy pop ups just off the infield.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that his dominant performance would come against Milwaukee. After Tuesday’s victory, he now owns a 16-6 lifetime record against the Brewers.
Manager Dale Sveum had made a comment about how he would take 14 strikeouts and 10 runs most days. I don’t think he wanted to see that many strikeouts on consecutive days. As dominant as Dempster was on Tuesday, Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke (7-2) was near equal. After setting a season high for strikeouts the day before, the Cubs managed to top it with 15 against Greinke. That number must be lucky, as he’s now 15-0 at Miller Park, beating the Cubs 8-0.The Cubs couldn’t string together any hits because they couldn’t hit. For the day, they managed three: doubles by Soriano and Starlin Castro early and a single by Ian Stewart in the 8th.
Paul Maholm (4-5) was pulled after four innings with a pitch count of 81. It was his fifth winless start. In those starts he has managed to pitch past the 6th only once. If for no other reason than to keep the bullpen fresh, the ability to go deep into games on a consistent basis is a must. Look no further than last season for reference on the effects short starts will have on a ball club. Remember Rodrigo Lopez?
The quiet bats continued Thursday. Over 6 2/3 against Brewers starter Randy Wolf, the Cubs collected only four hits. Matt Garza, who didn’t factor in the decision, again pitched well enough to win. He struck out six and gave up three hits in six innings. His only mistakes were a Norichika Aori solo home run in the 4th and a 6th inning double by Corey Hart that led to a run one batter later. The Cubs have now given Garza less than three runs of support in nine of his last 11 starts.
In the 3rd, the Cubs had a chance to score but didn’t capitalize. Garza connected on a 1-2 fastball for his first extra-base hit and was moved over on a Reed Johnson single. However, Barney and Castro were unable to bring the runner in from third base with a pop out and ground out, respectively.
They managed a run in the 7th after Baker walked to lead off the inning, moved up on an error by Cody Ransom and scored on Koyie Hill’s double to right field. With two outs in the 8th, Soriano hit a single ahead of pinch hitter Bryan LaHair. The Cubs took the lead as LaHair hit home run number 12 to right center field.
It wouldn’t last long as the bullpen gave the run right back in the bottom half. Cubs-killer Corey Hart hit a game-tying ground rule double to score Aoki and send the game to extra innings. Casey Coleman worked himself into a hitters count with the first batter he face- Aoki- who sent the 2-0 pitch on a line drive over the right field fence for the walk-off.
The few bright spots of this series also raise some questions: Alfonso Soriano has seemingly found his power stroke and continues to contribute by getting on base as well. Does this make it any easier to move him to an American League team in need of a hitter? Bryan LaHair has busted his slump, but is still being sat against left handed pitchers. How long can this be tolerated before the Cubs decide on a permanent solution? Ryan Dempster’s gem was certainly an eye-opener. Which teams were watching and taking notes on what it would take to acquire him?
Ryan Dempster- Win, 7 IP, 3H, 3K, 0BB, 0R
Alfonso Soriano- 3/11, 1HR, 3RBI, BB, 3 runs scored
Darwin Barney- 1/11, 0R, 2K, 0BB
Paul Maholm- Loss, 4IP, 6H, 4ER
follow on Twitter @midway_brennan