Astros 1 @ Cubs 7

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Cubs are going to miss the Astros. Not long term–eventually we all want them to move beyond their current bottom-dweller status. But in the short-term future, and especially next season, we’re going to miss the team that makes us look competitive and well-assembled by comparison.

Monday night was a perfect example of what the Cubs and the rest of the NL Central are losing next season. Facing off against the 38-win team, the Cubs looked like world-beaters. The pitching was dominant, the defense sharp, and the hitting plentiful. I’m sure they would have looked just as good playing against a rookie league team, or the USA women’s gymnastics team–the point is the Astros aren’t real quality major league competition, and it showed last night.

But don’t let that spoonful of reality sour what was a great evening for Cubs fans. Jeff “The Dread Pirate” Samardzija looked dominant because he was, tying his career-high for strikeouts with 11 and surrendering only 1 run. He worked quick all evening, and his only misstep came in the 6th when he gave up a pinch-hit homerun to Astros’ rookie Brandon Barnes. Other than that he had the Houston lineup under control all night, looking for the most part like he did in the beginning of the season.

James Russell and Jeff Beliveau both worked scoreless innings of relief for the Cubs. I don’t know what caused Russell’s meltdown this past Saturday, but he was back to his efficient self. And I have yet to really see a good reason to put a lot of faith in Beliveau, but he was fairly effective Monday and got to record the final out (regardless how the season’s going, it’s got to be pretty cool to be a young reliever out on the mound for the final out of a win).

The Cubs’ offense was just as impressive. Anthony Rizzo had a great night, going 4-5 and driving in 1 run. The occasionally powerful Darwin Barney had 2 hits, including a 2-run homer in the 2nd to give the Cubs a lead they would never relinquish. Josh Vitters didn’t get a hit out of the second spot in the lineup, but he did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly. And Alfonso Soriano’s homerun blast in the 5th was one of the fastest I’ve ever seen get into the bleachers. Seriously.

All this unfolded in front of a season-low (announced) crowd of 31,452. I’m not sure how much significance we’re supposed to draw from that number, or the fact that it was a season-low. Given how they’ve been playing lately and the lousy weather in Chicago yesterday, it’s to be expected that fans would stay home or look for some other diversion. On the other hand, there are plenty of teams that would love to have 31,000 people in the stands for a rainy Monday night game, so maybe it’s not quite the financial death knell that some writers will try to make it sound like today.

All told it was a highly enjoyable game, and I’m looking forward to a couple more before the Astros head home later this week. Tomorrow Chris Volstad goes for his first win in forever, and based on the fight Houston showed tonight, my gut says he gets it.

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