It’s been two weeks since the Cubs have lost a series. They’re on a roll and have been playing great baseball. Nothing that will help them get back into the NL Central race, but enough to make it fun watching them again. Is it a coincidence that they have been playing great since Anthony Rizzo got the call? Perhaps, but maybe we can credit him with bringing a spark to the team. These last three series were great to watch. They swept the Astros at Wrigley, split the series vs. the Braves and won the series vs. the Mets.
6/29 vs. Astros W 4-0
6/30 vs. Astros W 3-2
7/01 vs. Astros W 3-0 7/06 @ Mets W 8-7
7/07 @ Mets L 1-3
7/02 @ Braves W 4-1 7/08 @ Mets W 7-0
7/03 @ Braves L 3-10
7/04 @ Braves W 5-1
7/05 @ Braves L 3-7
6/29- Paul Maholm redeemed himself and pitched a gem, he went 8 1/3 scoreless innings to win for the first time in eight starts, while the offense lit up the sky as Alfonso Soriano, Luis Valbuena and Steve Clevenger all hit home runs. Carlos Marmol made things entertaining by loading the bases in the ninth, but then retired Chris Johnson to end the threat.
6/30- The Astros took an early lead but the Cubs came back as Starlin Castro hit an RBI single and Anthony Rizzo hit his first Cubs home run, a two-run shot in the fifth, to put the Cubs up for good over the Astros.
7/01- It was a pitcher’s duel on Sunday, Wandy Rodriguez vs. Travis Wood. Wood pretty much did everything. He went 7 2/3 scoreless innings and sparked a three-run rally in the sixth inning with a double, and helped the Cubs sweep the Astros.
7/02- Jeff Samardzija had been struggling lately but he definitely showed the opposite on Monday. He struck out a career-high 11 batters while holding the Braves to one run over seven innings. Rizzo got the Cubs going with a homer and Valbuena put the Cubs in front for good with a bases-clearing double which gave the Cubs, their fourth straight victory.
7/03- The winless drought continued for Chris Volstad, as he was chased out after a five-run fifth. That now makes it 20 starts for him since his last win. Michael Bourn hit a go-ahead three-run triple in the fifth, Jason Heyward homered, and Chipper Jones went 5-for-5 with four RBI’s giving the Braves the win over the Cubs.
7/04- It had been awhile since the Cubs had gotten a W on July 4th. , but they turned things around this year. Maholm gave up one run over six innings for his second straight win. Bryan LaHair, Jeff Baker and Rizzo homered to back the strong pitching performance.
7/05- Matt Garza had a rough start. He allowed three homers including a pair of two-run shots in a 44-pitch first. The Braves’ Mike Minor allowed just three hits over 6 1/3 innings. Geovany Soto homered for the Cubs but it wasn’t enough offense and the Braves got the win and split the series.
7/06- Anthony Rizzo had a great game. He put the exclamation mark on a five-run fifth inning with a three-run blast off Johan Santana. He had a career-high four hits to power the Cubs over the Mets. We were lucky to have that much offense because Marmol made it interesting in the ninth. The Mets rallied for three ninth-inning runs but fell just short.
7/07- Dillon Gee isn’t the Mets Ace, but he sure pitched like one vs. the Cubs. He went eight strong innings and only gave up one run to allow his team to win. Jordany Valdespin and Ike Davis homered to seal the deal.
7/08- The Cubs came out swinging and had a four-run first off Jon Niese. Ryan Dempster returned from the DL and continued where he left off. He went five shutout innings to extend his scoreless innings streak to 27. Starlin Castro put the game away with a three-run homer.
The Cubs finished the first-half with a win, but this has definitely been a disappointing first half. I can’t say anything that we haven’t said already. The more the season progressed, the more the team struggled, and the more the fans got upset and lost hope. Like I’ve said before, I think we all expected it but we don’t really want to accept it once it’s here. It was hard to watch, now imagine having to go out there and play day in and day out. I’m sure the guys were trying their best but it just wasn’t transferring into wins. It wasn’t clicking, either the starting pitching was bad, the offense couldn’t hit, or the bullpen didn’t hold leads. Baseball is a game of strategy, and talent but you also need a little luck. If a team is playing well, and they’re doing the right things, the starting pitching is strong, the aggressive at bats turn into hits, and the aggressive base running turns into being smart around the base paths.
But when things are going wrong, everything is magnified and really hard to get over. Pitching is shaky, aggressive at bats turn into quick outs, and aggressive base running turns into a TOOTBLAN. The latter is kind of what was happening to the Cubs. The starting pitching started out great; therefore the team didn’t need to score many runs because the starting pitchers weren’t giving up that many. Once the starting pitching started to crumble, it was really magnified how bad of a stretch the offense was having. For a while there the bullpen also started to struggle and the current closer lost his job until he could figure things out again. It has been really nice to see the change that the Cubs had to close out the first half.
In the last four series they showed that they can actually play good baseball. The starting pitching has been strong, they have had aggressive at bats that have resulted in RBI’s and their aggressive base running has really paid off. One area where the Cubs have really improved is in defense. Castro seems to be more focused now; Soriano has really showed improvement out in left field. He gets good jumps on balls and has made a lot of catches that in the past years he probably wouldn’t have made. Darwin Barney had a great streak at second base. I believe he went three months without committing an error.
Of course I don’t believe that all this has fallen into place just because Rizzo has come up. However, I do believe that maybe he’s brought a renewed spark to the team. Maybe unknowingly he has made the guys want to work and play harder each day. That to me is the purpose of a rebuild. Not only do you get “fresh” players physically, but also mentally. Young teams are full of players that are eager to show that they belong and to prove that they can succeed at this level. They come with fresh thought about the game, and how it should be played. They appreciate it more because they haven’t been around it at this level, which is the highest level that they can be at. That is what I believe Rizzo has done. He has also made it fun to watch again. To me, a real fan never stops watching, but it’s sad and hard nonetheless. You get tired of the same thing every day. You expect them to lose. But when a young, vibrant, talented player comes up, you really want to see what he will do to help your team. Rizzo has done everything that has been advertised, and after going through several young players that really didn’t quite work out to the level that the team had expected, it’s nice to see a change. Theo & Co. knew this, that’s why they made it a priority to trade for him and get him to Chicago. With the signings of Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, Cub fans are now breathing a different kind of air. Maybe, just maybe, luck might be on our side this time. The second half the Cubs just need to focus on winning series, winning the first game of the each series is key. They’re not contending this year, but maybe we can see a better team at the end, and who knows, maybe it will be a very different team with the trade deadline approaching.
The Cubs will have about 4 days to rest or so before the second half begins. They will resume play on Friday at Wrigley Field where they will kick off a three-game series vs. the Diamondbacks.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs
Friday July 13, 2012 @ 1:20 p.m. CT
Ian Kennedy, RHP (6-7, 4.26 ERA) vs. Paul Maholm, LHP (6-6, 4.57 ERA)
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs
Saturday July 14, 2012 @ 12:05 p.m. CT
Joe Saunders, LHP (4-5, 3.44 ERA) vs. Ryan Dempster, RHP (4-3, 1.99 ERA)
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs
Sunday July 15, 2012 @ 1:20 p.m. CT
Trevor Cahill, RHP (7-7, 3.64 ERA) vs. Matt Garza, RHP (4-7, 4.32 ERA)
So, in honor of the All-Star Game, my question for this week is: What is your favorite All-Star Game moment of all time? Let me know! Thanks for reading and as always Go Cubs!