Record: 16-13. Change on last season: -1
Another solid pitching performance - we've conceded two runs or less in seven of the last ten games, and our starters are 7-1 in that time. Cruz delivered his second strong performance in a row, cementing his position in the rotation with five shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks, while striking out seven. I can't help thinking, why the hell did we bother starting Russ Ortiz at all this year? As long as those walks remain under control, Cruz has the potential to become a steal. From the A's. Brief pause to worship Josh Byrnes. :-)
That was Cruz's first win as a starter since September 4, 2003 but said Cruz, with Zen-like placidity: "If they want me to start, I can start. I just came here to work, so I don't worry about it. It's something you cannot control." His next start will involve him pitching from the lotus position, while levitating three feet above the mound. That'd certainly lessen the chances of him tweaking an ankle on a pickoff move, as happened yesterday, though he did get through the fifth, striking out the Cubs before coming out.
He handed things off to our somewhat-depleted bullpen: Valverde was unavailable after being used on three straight nights, while Daigle was working on another mound down in Tucson (wife Jennie Finch gave birth to son "Ace" - no kidding - yesterday). However, Medders worked two scoreless innings, despite allowing two hits and a walk. Aquino also allowed two base-runners in the eighth, but also posted a zero, and Vizcaino showed solidarity by putting a man on third in the ninth before completing the shutout. However, it must be said, the Cubs were woeful: they had men in scoring position during six innings, but went 1-for-11.
As a result, the Cubs outhit us 8-7. Can't be many times a team does that, and still loses by six runs. But we only left four men on base, compared to the Cubs eleven, and four of our eight hits were for extra bases, including home runs for Tracy - his team-leading sixth - and Easley, while they had only one, a triple for Pierre [his raw speed is astounding. Getting picked off second base, as in the first inning...less so.] Easley also drove in two more runs with sacrifice flies.
It's interesting to see the reactions in Cubbie fandom, perhaps best summed up by Al at Bleed Cubbie Blue: "The bottom of the barrel has officially been scraped." Hey, losing to AZ is not that bad. :-) And despite the doom 'n' gloom, as Al also points out, they are still over .500 - I think we in Arizona would been delighted with 14-13 as a record for the first month. Mind you, scoring a total of five runs in six games? Not good. And they now face the Padres, who have won five straight since that ninth-inning comeback against the Dodgers. Glad we played, and swept, them before they got hot.
The good thing is, the more the Cubs lose, the greater will be the pressure on them to do something drastic to replace Lee. Hey, Cubbies - over here! We've got a first baseman who hit 30 home-runs last season if you want him! Pay no attention to that .184 average this year; small sample size, y'know? All we want is a studly pitching prospect. No, not Rich Hill, thank you very much...
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Today: Top of the World (NL West, anyway)
Thanks to William K, 4CornersFan, johngordonma, IndyDback and azdb7 for their comments, on what was a good day for our Arizona teams: the D'backs finish their second sweep in a row, while the Suns beat the Lakers in LA to force game seven in their playoff series, back here in Phoenix, and the Cardinals sold out of season tickets for their new stadium. Our win puts us atop the NL West for the first time (meaningless stints with less than five games this year excluded) since July 31st last year, when we led the Padres in win percentage by 0.0002.
Heroes and Zeroes
Series 8/9: vs. Dodgers/Cubs, at home
Tracy: 5-for-16, 9 RBI, 3 HR
Green: 9-for-15, 3 RBI
Valverde: 3 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 4 K, 3 saves
Hernandez: 3.2 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 6 ER
Four wins out of four, so plenty of heroes to go around - hell, we could have populated this entire section from the 10-8 win on Tuesday night alone. Several people may have more hits than Tracy, but nobody delivered more crucial ones, as he drove in 3/8 of our runs this series. Green continues to be on fire, now batting .327; remarkable, given his average dipped below .100 after his first at-bat on April 16. Since then, he has hit .426 (29-for-68). Valverde saved three straight games, before getting the night off yesterday, and receiving honourable mentions are Cruz (five shutout innings) and Byrnes (7-for-13).
Despite the double sweep, there was still room for improvement. For example, we'd rather not have to dig ourselves out of 0-6 holes to begin with - Orlando Hernandez, please note (though his .333 batting average does lead the team!). Hudson went hitless in the series, dropping his season average to .214; at that level, his glove skills begin to teeter perilously close to being outweighed.
Finally, a fabulous quote from Cory Lidle on Bonds in the Philadelphia Daily News. It's rare for a player to come and say what the vast majority of the public think.