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by Derek Smart
Nothing like a little outright clubbing to get the season started. The Cubs smoked the Diamondbacks for 23 hits - 17 of them singles - on their way to a 16-6 super-fun-time victory. It wasn't the crispest game in the history of baseball, but several D-Back pitchers must have felt crispy by the end of their turns - Javier Vasquez and Greg Aquino being chief among the charred.
I'm not much for step-by-step recaps - you can getthoseelsewhere - so let's just get right to a few observations. Bullet pointed for your pleasure:
The stat line wasn't pretty - 4.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 8 SO, 1 HR - but Carlos Zambrano's outing, while somewhat unpleasant to watch at times, wasn't as bad as the 7 hits and 4 walks would initially imply.
There are, in my estimation, three categories of Big Z performance:
Wild up and in the zone
Wild down and out of the zone
I'll admit there are shades between those three, but that's about the extent of the base variables. Obviously, #3 is the most desirable, but when you can't have steak, a burger will do, which is what performance #2 represents, and what we saw yesterday.
Despite the seven hits, Z was tough to get a hold of, and the only truly crushed ball was the one Jose Cruz Jr. sent over the fence in the second on what looked like a hanging slider. Beyond that, some of the knocks were well struck, but nothing was really rocked, and for the most part when Carlos missed his spots, it was because the ball had a ton of good movement that simply took it out of the zone. That's why he was able to register 8 K's despite his lack of control, and why I'll take that category of performance most days.
While Zambrano may not have been top notch, at least he wasn't at the level of Javier Vasquez, who had an extreme case of Category 1 going on. His breaking ball didn't break, and on the rare occasions he did manage to snap it off, it hit so far in front of the plate that no one was fooled.
That would have been fine if he could control his fastball, but he couldn't, and when he did throw it for a strike it was up and over the plate begging to be crushed. Even his first out was a pitch that Todd Walker destroyed and would have been at least a double had Cruz not made a very nice play in center.
I didn't see enough of Vasquez last year to know if this what the Yankees saw all too much of in 2004, but the D-Backs have to be hoping this iteration of their ace doesn't show up again for a while.
The Cubs scored two runs in the first inning, and while there's nothing terrifically unusual in that, the fact that they came on four singles in the frame is - at least by the standard set during last season. I'm not going to dig around to find out how many times the Cubs had an inning of four or more hits without one of them being for extra bases in 2004, but I'd be willing to bet that it wouldn't take more than two hands to count.
The top six guys in the Cubs' lineup all had very nice days, but the most encouraging of all to my mind was the game had by Derrek Lee. As Alex pointed out, yesterday's production puts him very close to his April 2004 numbers already - halfway to his home run total, nearly halfway to his RBI total, over 1/4 of the way to his doubles total, and nearly 1/4 of the way to his hit total.
Granted, I want to see more before I get giddy, but the only thing keeping Lee from being a top five first baseman is his historically poor starts. Get rid of that, and the Cubs go a long way toward making up some of the power they lost in the offseason.
Tonight we get a battle of former Braves - Greg Maddux vs. Russ Ortiz. It'll be interesting to see which Maddux shows up, particularly since his April ERA over the last three seasons is a whopping 5.10. No such tendency for Ortiz, but this still feels like a game that will see a lot of bullpen action. In fact, with Dempster going tomorrow, the Cubs are likely to really need that day off on Thursday to get the relief corps rested.