Cubs End First Half on a High Note

The Cubs headed to New York for the last series before the All-Star break looking to finish strong. Overall, they did just that, with the help of an aggressive offense and the miraculous return of Ryan Dempster.

It was Hispanic Heritage Night at Citi Field on Friday, and Reed Johnson maintained his muy caliente record against Johan Santana. Johnson solidified his .516 batting average against Santana with a leadoff home run in the first, followed by three more hits (missing the cycle by a triple). Each Cub that started the game had at least one hit, except for pitcher Travis Wood. Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Baker also went deep, the former also notching a four-hit game.

Wood, who improved his record to 4-3, gave up five hits and two earned runs. He kept it together for the Cubs through six innings, with Shawn Camp and James Russell taking over in the seventh and eighth and allowing minimal damage. But in true Carlos Marmol ninth-inning fashion, the Mets scored three runs after he walked the bases loaded and allowed an Ike Davis two-run single. Luckily for the Cubs, and Marmol’s trade value, he got out of the jam and the Cubs won 8-7.

However, things didn’t go quite as well for the Cubs Saturday afternoon. They faced Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, who allowed seven hits, no walks and only one run. That one run came after a Luis Valbuena double. Jeff Samardzija grounded out and brought Valbuena to third, and a David DeJesus single knocked him in.

Even though Samardzija put another game in his loss column, he and manager Dale Sveum felt that he has much improved after his dismal June and made a good showing before the All-Star break. He gave up two home runs and seven hits in seven innings pitched. And after coming off an 11-strikeout game, he struck out four in the Cubs’ 3-1 loss. It’s nothing to get excited about, but with a little more confidence and command Samardzija could get the job done on a more consistent basis.

Ryan Dempster finally made his long-awaited return Sunday after a little less than a month on the DL. And before he even took the mound, the Cubs gave him quite a cushion. Reed Johnson led off with a single, followed by a Starlin Castro single, an Anthony Rizzo pop-out (really), an Alfonso Soriano single, a Jeff Baker double and a Geovany Soto single. The Cubs scored four, adding another three in the seventh with a three-run homer by Starlin Castro.

The early lead took some pressure off of Dempster, who looked like his old self in five scoreless innings pitched, increasing his streak to 27 scoreless innings. He allowed four hits and struck out four in the Cubs’ 7-0 win. Dempster comes out of the first half with a 1.99 ERA, and even after his DL stint has proven why he is an ace that will be valuable in a trade.

The Cubs should be happy with the way they ended the first half of the season. While pitching is still an issue that isn’t going away, it seemed like everyone contributed in this series, and most of all, Cubs baseball was once again fun to watch. I think fans should look forward to what the Cubs can do in the second half.

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