It was the same old story for the Cubs during their opening weekend series loss to the Pirates at Wrigley Field. By dropping 2 of 3 to the Pirates, the Cubs already fell 2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds (who swept the Milwaukee Brewers) for 1st place in the NL Central.
Friday Opener – Cubs 3, Pirates 6. Ryan Dempster took the loss as he gave up a grand slam to Neil Walker in the 5th inning and a 2-run home run to Andrew McCutchen in the 7th inning on his 114th pitch of the game. A lack of clutch timely hitting hurt the Cubs as it did oh so often in 2010. It became the theme for the weekend. With the bases loaded and only 1 out in the 3rd inning, Carlos Pena grounded out in a fielder’s choice and the Cubs were held to 1 run instead of having a big inning. In the bottom of the 7th, with 2 on and only 1 out, Marlon Byrd and Aramis Ramirez flew out to end the scoring chance. The same exact thing happened in the 9th inning with 1 out. This time Byrd struck out and Ramirez grounded out to end the game. Not good.
Saturday #2 – Cubs 5, Pirates 3. Although the Cubs rallied to win the game, the Cubs wasted 2 runners in each of the 5th and 6th innings without scoring any runs. Kudos to the Cubs hitters for taking advantage of Lyle Overbay’s error in the 8th inning that permitted the Cubs to score 3 unearned runs and win the game. Blake DeWitt proved his worth as a pinch hitter by delivering the game-winning 2-run double. Big Z kept the Cubs in the game by allowing just 3 ER in 6 good innings of work and he didn’t let the lack of run support get him down. Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol all looked sharp in their 1st 2011 game action. Each reliever tossed a scoreless inning of relief without allowing a single hit. Wood had 2 K’s, Marshall had 1 K and Marmol struck out the side in the 9th inning for his 1st save of the season.
Sunday #3 – Cubs 4, Pirates 4. The Cubs came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to take a 4-3 lead on Alfonso Soriano’s solo home run in the 6th inning. However, a leadoff walk by Carlos Marmol in the 9th inning came to haunt him. Pedro Alvarez’s 2-run single gave the Pirates the 5-4 win. Matt Garza was not good. Although Garza worked out of trouble well, he allowed way too many base runners – 12 hits?! You gotta love the 12 K’s though. Once again, the game should not have been that close as the Cubs blew numerous opportunities to have a big inning. The Cubs got runners on in each of the 1st 2 innings but never scored. In the 4th inning, Carlos Pena tied the game at 2 with a 2-run double with nobody out. But with 2nd and third and nobody out, Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano could not push another run across with weak flyouts. Then the Pirates smartly walked Tyler Colvin to get the easy Matt Garza out to end the inning without any further damage. This was completely unacceptable and you just knew it would come back to haunt them at the time. Soto failed to come through in the 5th inning with 2 on and 2 out as he grounded out to end the inning. Then again in the 9th inning down by 1, the Cubs blew a great chance to win the game or at least send it into extra innings. With 1st and 2nd and only 1 out, Byrd grounded into the game-ending double play. Not good.
All in all, the pitching was pretty good, especially the bullpen (ignoring Marmol’s blown save on Sunday). Then again, the Cubs continue to show that they have trouble pushing across runs and winning close games. Manager Mike Quade needs to nip this in the bud before the trend grows too strong…