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Wins Are Nice
by Derek Smart
Last night was no exception to the statement above, and while there were some further reasons for pessimism, there were also some reasonably positive developments. Whether the good or the bad wins out beyond last night remains to be seen (and goodness knows, I'm not in the business of betting on the former after the last few weeks), but I suppose I'm just sick enough to watch.
It was another excellent outing by Z, in what has been a really fantastic May. In the 23 innings he's pitched over his 3 starts in the month, he's allowed only a single run, and while his strikeout and walk rates both remain high, the real difference maker has been his ability to limit the opposition's hits.
What has been a relative strength of his in his career was actually an issue in April, as he allowed a .256 batting average to opposing hitters, which isn't horrible on the surface, but when his high walk rate is factored in it becomes a problem. May's been a different story, however, with Carlos only allowing a .165 average against, which has helped to mitigate the walks he's given up.
Last night, though, was an example of everything working on all cylinders, with only two walks on the evening (one of which while he was obviously tiring in the eighth), and all of the four hits he relinquished being singles. There was, in fact, never a time when the Nationals had a legitimate threat going beyond, perhaps, the eighth, when what little problem existed was extinguished by Ronnie Cedeno's fine double play off Zambrano's deflection of Nick Johnson's ball up the middle. It was, all in all, an exemplary effort, and of the type the Cubs will need regularly if they want to even have a shot this season at removing the label of laughing stock.
The offensive performance last night was misleading on a number of levels. First, there's the simple notion that the club scored 4 runs, therefore the hitters managed an acceptable output, if only barely. This belies the fact that the three men who scored in the fifth inning were all on base due to the largesse of the Nationals' defense (although extra kudos go to Big Z for hauling down the first base line on a grounder many pitchers would have loafed into an out).
However, it's still not that simple. The Cubs had a lot of good luck going for them in that frame, but they also had a lot of bad luck in that inning and others. Multiple times during the contest they hit balls extremely hard that happened to be right at a Nationals defender. There was Ronnie Cedeno's ill-fated liner that thanks to one of this year's worst baserunning plays ended the inning and robbed the club of a run. There was Michael Barrett's potential run-scoring smash up the middle in the fifth inning that Livan Hernandez expertly fielded and turned into another double-play. There was even Jacque Jones liner ripped up the right-field line, also in the fifth, that would have scored Aramis Ramirez had it not been laced directly at first baseman, Nick Johnson.
The club's approach even seemed to evolve as the game went on, at least while Livan Hernandez was in the game. Early on, it was the same old story, with everyone taking early hacks and making quick, easy outs. Later on, though, everyone seemed to get the idea that they could actually work the occasional count and get themselves something to hit. It didn't happen universally or consistently, but it happened enough to be at least moderately encouraging.
I'm going to cut it short, because I've got daddy-duty all day today, and I've barely been able to get this much done during the moments when the munchkin has managed to occupy herself. Hopefully, we'll have more to cheer about tonight. I'm not counting on a long winning streak at any point this season - the Dusty Baker Cubs have yet to win more than 7 in a row - but two in a row and a guaranteed series win, especially before Kid K's season debut, would be a drop of salve on this sucking chest wound of a season.