Star of the Game – Carlos Villanueva (.197 WPA)
The 2013 Cubs have a former reliever, now full-time starter, who is carving up the league’s best teams with great efficiency. Sure Jeff Samardzija’s been good – but I’m talking about Carlos Villanueva who has been spectacular. Villanueva has now faced the World Champion Giants, MLB’s best the Atlanta Braves, and one of baseball’s most potent lineups over the last 3-4 years the Texas Rangers. He emerges from that gauntlet with an ERA of 1.29 and three very good starts. On Thursday he was efficient as well, throwing only 87 pitches in 7 innings of work. By comparison, Alexi Ogando lasted merely two-and-a-third while delivering 71 offerings.
Part of Ogando’s problem is that he couldn’t throw a strike to Cubs SS Starlin Castro. Cubs’ fans know just how hard that is to do…Castro hadn’t walked once all year, but Ogando threw him 8 straight balls and Castro didn’t even take the bat off his shoulder until the fourth inning after Ogando had been removed. As a point of reference, Castro walked two times in a game only once last year (and one of the two in that game was intentional). Not since June 16, 2011 had Castro walked twice in a 9-inning game without at least one of the walks being intentional.
Not only did Castro get his first walk, but Alfonso Soriano notched his first HR of the season. And even better, it followed a 2-run HR from Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs went back-to-back in the third, and Schierholtz hit a long foul ball after Soriano’s HR that nearly found him trotting around the bases as well. To say that the Cubs had an easy time with Ogando would be putting it mildly.
Strike Two, HBP
The weird play of the day goes to Luis Valbuena, who swung at a pitch that also hit him in the second inning. Actually he tried to check his swing, but it was still a strike – which turned out to be a good thing for the Cubs when Valbuena eventually singled to drive in the first run of the game.
James Russell and Carlos Marmol – or two imposters wearing their jerseys – combined for six consecutive outs, three of which were strikeouts. Something tells me Jeff Samardzija won’t find as much help if/when he’s removed from his start on Friday.
Before most of the night games had started on Thursday, the Cubs had a better record than the Angels. A better run differential than either version of the Marlins (Toronto or Miami) or the high-priced Dodgers and Phillies. They’ve given up fewer runs than the vaunted Cincinnati Reds pitching staff (albeit in one fewer game), and scored more than the Dodgers or Tampa Bay. By night’s end they could find themselves a scant 2.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. It’s a really long season and the Cubs have been playing some really good teams…I expect the mood around here will be much better over the next couple of weeks.