After back-to-back shutouts at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals last weekend, the Chicago Cubs redeemed themselves on Monday with a 2-0 victory as they visited the Pittsburgh Pirates for a three-game set.
The Pirates had found themselves a half game out of first, trailing the division-leading Cincinnati Reds, and were on a five-game winning streak till the Cubs came to town.
Chicago’s pitching staff remained stellar aside from the constant trade rumors that kept swirling around the club during their series in Pittsburgh. None was more talked about than the rumors surrounding starter Ryan Dempster that he was headed to the Atlanta Braves. Both Dempster and Cubs’ management denied those rumors as he continues to make starts for the Cubs, closing out the series matinee Wednesday.
Jeff Samardzija pitched a gem as he threw a one-hitter through eight in the series opener. He is having a bounce-back month since his disastrous winless and 10.41 ERA performance in June. In July, Samardzija has pitched 27 innings in four starts with a 1.67 ERA.
Starlin Castro scored both the Cubs’ runs in the opener due in large part to Alfonso Soriano’s two RBI doubles on the night.
Paul Maholm was just as impressive as Samardzija the next night, also throwing eight strong innings. His only mistake was a solo blast off the bat of first baseman Garrett Jones.
Maholm has won each of his starts in July for the Cubs, pitching 30 innings in his four victories and with an ERA of 1.20.
As far as short term seems to go, the Cubs’ starting staff appears they will be just fine if and when Dempster and Matt Garza are traded. Samardzija, Maholm and Travis Wood all are capable of giving the Cubs wins in the final two months of the season.
In the finale as the Cubs tried to go for the sweep, they sent out Dempster as his final day in a Cubs uniform keeps getting delayed.
Dempster was not horrible, but not perfect either in his second start since his scoreless inning streak was snapped at the hands of a Cardinals four-run first inning last Friday. His ERA has jumped from 1.86 when he threw the 33rd straight scoreless innings to 2.25 with his three earned runs and six-inning effort Wednesday afternoon.
Why the Cubs continue to start him – and Garza – after he hit 33 scoreless remains a mystery and is actually hurting the team. He should’ve been shutdown till a trade was made to get the best prospects from a potential buyer. His struggles as of late are making teams wonder if he can hold up the rest of the season; that and the fact he seems to want to go to the Los Angeles Dodgers, making it difficult for the Cubs to trade him.
Chicago was unable to get the sweep as a home run in the fifth from Michael McKenry tied the game two-all and the game winning RBI-double from Garrett Jones in the sixth gave the Pirates the eventual win. Joel Hanrahan earned his 29th save with a 10-pitch ninth.
On Tuesday, the Pirates traded for Houston Astros’ ace Wandy Rodriguez for three minor league prospects. While the Pirates greatly increase the strength of their rotation with the addition of Rodriguez, they still need a bat to contend and overtake the division from the Reds while Joey Votto rehabs his knee. Who should the Pirates go after? How about Alfonso Soriano?
He’s having a very good season since switching to the lighter bat and was even better in this past series against the Pirates. He was 4-for-8 with four RBIs and two doubles. PNC Park is also where Soriano has had the most success offensively with a minimum of 150 at-bats. Soriano has 12 home runs, 13 doubles and a career average of .331 at PNC Park. If the Cubs want to get rid of Soriano this season and the Pirates want to reach the post-season, it seems it’s in both clubs best interests to make a deal for the outfielder.
Series Studs: Alfonso Soriano 4-for-8, 2 2B’s, 4 RBI’s and 1 HR and Jeff Samardzija and Paul Maholm’s back-to-back 8 IP
Series Dud: Bryan LaHair 0-for-8, 3 K’s
The Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game weekend set at the Friendly Confines.
Follow on Twitter: @midwayMars