Carlos Zambrano made his “much-anticipated” return to the starting rotation against the Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Monday night. At 1st glance, when I saw that Big Z had tossed 4 scoreless innings to start the game, I got a little bounce in my step. Maybe Zambrano would be able to pitch well down the stretch. Maybe he would even be so good that the Cubs might consider keeping him for the duration of his contract, or maybe another team would be more interested in agreeing to a trade for the hefty Venezulan this off-season. I started to get excited. But since I turned the game on with 2 outs in the bottom of the inning, I didn’t really get a full feel for how Zambrano was pitching. And when I looked at the box score, my positive thoughts were quickly dashed.
Big Z was laboring as his control was atrocious. He ended up making it through 5 innings with the score tied at 2. He gave up both ER in the 5th inning as he ran out of steam. He gave up only 4 hits, but he walked 7 batters and he threw 96 pitches in the process. Not exactly what we were looking for. I’m not exactly sure how he even lasted that long without giving up more runs. The 2nd inning was a perfect example of sheer luck. He walked Pat Burrell to start the inning and then gave up a hit to Pablo Sandoval. Luckily Juan Urube grounded into a double play sending Burrell to 3rd base with 2 outs. But then Big Z issued 2 straight walks to load the bases. Only a Andres Torres strikeout allowed Zambrano to get out of the inning unscathed. He issued 1 walk in each inning that he pitched and his leadoff walk to Torress in the 5th finally came back to haunt him on a Buster Posey double. Zambrano then allowed another run to score on a wild pitch. When you are wild, you’re going to throw lots of pitches and you’re going to get into loads of trouble. It is a recipe for disaster and that’s exactly what happened to Zambrano. Now I know it was his 1st start since June 25th so we have to give him a little time to get back into the starter’s mind frame. But he doesn’t have much time – only another 8-9 starts the rest of the way, so he really needs to come out firing on all cylinders in his next start – time is of the essence if we want to show the rest of the league that Big Z still has some value.
Marcus Mateo – another young Cubs pitcher struggling in his major league debut – flirted with disaster in each of the 10th and 11th innings. He gave up a single and a double in the 10th inning but avoided giving up a run when Colvin threw out Travis Ishikawa at the plate. But in the 11th, Mateo didn’t get so lucky as he failed to retire a batter. He gave up 2 singles and then walked Posey to load the bases with nobody out. Then Burrell hit the game-winning sacrifice fly to deep center to drive in the winning run in walk-off fashion…
The Cubs offense was actually better than I thought it would be. The team racked up 11 hits, but once again, clutch hits were lacking. Starlin Castro, Xavier Nady and Marlon Byrd each had 2 hits. Tyler Colvin, Byrd and Alfonso Soriano had the 3 RBI’s. And hey, all 3 runs were earned, so at least we did something to deserve the runs, right?
Great match-up tonight in Game 2 of the series. Ryan Dempster gets the honor of facing the 2-time defending Cy Young Award Winner – Tim Lincecum. Yippee!
In any event, this is getting pretty ugly as the losses keep piling up. The Cubs have now lost 4 in a row and 11 of 12 games. Their record is 47-65. They trail the Cincinnati Reds by 16.5 games for 1st place in the NL Central?! This is a team that won back-to-back division titles in 2007 & 2008. My how fast the might have fallen. With the Reds stockpiling amazing young pitchers who continue to improve each year and with the Cardinals trotting out Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday day in and day out, it is hard to imagine how the Cubs will even compete in the division during the next few seasons. The Cubs will wither have to get lucky and win the Adrian Gonzales sweepstakes this off-season or hope that their competitors suffer multiple season-ending injuries as the 2011 MLB schedule approaches. WOW – is this going to be a frustrating few years.