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by Derek Smart
Yes, Virginia, it is possible to have a normal score at the end of a Cubs/Reds game. I was beginning to wonder, knowing how last season's confrontations trended, and after seeing the result of Tuesday's game (which I missed entirely due to work and preparations for my daughter's birthday party. Of course, the thing I've taken from the experience is that I should do my best to miss each start by Glendon Rusch, if only to keep my blood pressure in the "non-explosive" range), I was beginning to wonder if a more typical baseball score would ever come out of this match-up again.
Leave it to The Old Man, Greg Maddux, to return a modicum of sanity to the proceedings. Good 'Ol Mad Dog has looked fantastic in both of his starts, but I'd argue yesterday's work was even better than his first go-round, what with the less offensively suppressing weather conditions, and the more explosive nature of the lineup faced. It's always a stretch at this point to say Maddux has looked like his old self, but the last couple of outings have been as close to such a thing as we're likely to see over the remainder of his career, so enjoy it, and enjoy the win.
To the Firing Line!
I only watched the first few innings of yesterday's game, as I'd been birthday partying all day (Grandmas and Goodies and Gifts, Oh My!), and by the time I got to my recording I only had enough energy to make it through three innings before I felt the need to check the internet for a final result and hit the hay. From what I've seen of the recap, though, I caught nearly all the relevant action, and I had a favorite pitching moment, to boot.
In the third, Javier Valentin led off the inning for the Reds, with Maddux taking the mound as a fully owned subsidiary of JV Home(r)s, Inc., having given up 4 free round trips in 10 at bats against Valentin. So when Maddux made him look flat out bad striking out on four pitches, it was a moment of vindication - at least for me - and a sign of the level The Professor was working at yesterday. Winning is great in general, but beating guys who regularly beat you is extra sweet.
Michael Barrett's having himself a dandy start to the year. Not only does he have a .385/.393/.808 line going to start the year, but he's tied for the Major League lead in RBIs with Andrew Jones at 13 - and he's done it in 13 fewer plate appearances. I know RBI are team dependent and all that, but it's fun to see someone like Barrett be up among the league leaders for a while, an honor that goes awfully well with the Clutch God Legend he's been building himself over the last few days.
Finally, we got a look at the reason why the Cubs were so anxious to acquire Juan Pierre in the offseason. Twice in the first three innings they had Pierre at second with Lee at first, and twice they were able to easily pull off a double-steal, both instances eventually leading to runs. Not only were they positive plays in the context of the game, they were just flat-out fun to watch, and the fact is, I can't remember the last time there was a Cub player who was a consistent threat to steal third.
I don't think one can realistically make the case that the Cubs' team speed was a direct cause of the Reds' five errors on the day, but it would be foolish to discount it completely as a factor - certainly, the need to quickly get a throw off contributed to Valentin's run-scoring error on the double-steal in the first. I think the speed factor is over-valued in Old School thinking, but gets short shrift from many statheads - myself included - so I'd suggest going forward that, while we should take with a grain of salt (or two) the constant prattling about the Cubs' basepath swiftness that will come with any success, we should also acknowledge that it's an undeniable part of the spectrum.
On the surface, I like today's pitching match-up between Carlos Zambrano and Eric Milton very much, but if the wind's blowing in, things could easily even out. Let's hope they don't and that all goes swimmingly for our boys, because while the next three games are against the Pirates, they also feature the Cubs' three worst starters, and that, as we all know, could end quite badly.