A disturbingly familiar scene played out at Wrigley Field again this weekend with the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates celebrating yet another series victory over the Cubs. The North Siders are now a befuddling 6-12 since 2010 against arguably the worst franchise in Major League Baseball over the last 20 years.
Things got off to a bad start on a miserably cold and drizzly Opening Day Friday. I knew things were a little off when I had no trouble picking up what used to be the toughest ticket in town at the box office just an hour before game time. The pre-game tribute to the late Ron Santo was well done and the Cubs got an early run with Starlin Castro taking full advantage of Pittsburgh’s poor defense. Dempster was cruising into the 5th when it all fell apart. The crafty Canadian eventually gave up two crushing bombs, the first being a grand slam to Neil Walker followed two innings later by Andrew McCutchen’s two-run, final-nail-in-the-coffin blast. Why Manager, Mikc Quade felt Dempster was his best option with 114 pitches under his belt is beyond me, but I’ll hold off judging him too harshly this early in the season.
Though Saturday’s weather was a vast improvement, the Cubs offense started out as lifeless as ever, going down on seven pitches in three separate innings at the hands of the overwhelmingly mediocre Paul Maholm. Even more frustrating was yet another cramp-shortened outing by Carlos Zambrano. Can someone please force him to eat a fucking banana and drink some water before his next start? Fortunately, everything changed in the 8th when, once again, Starlin Castro sparked a offensive explosion that amounted to 5 runs and allowed Carlos Marmol to come in and strike out the side to clinch the Cubs first victory of 2011.
So with a renewed sense of optimism I flipped on WGN today to see Matt Garza’s debut as a Cub. Garza didn’t fully disappoint, fanning a career-high 12 batters, but giving up 3 runs on 12 hits isn’t exactly stellar. A 4-run, middle-inning rally was fun while it lasted, but it was ultimately wasted as Marmol’s serious command issues and Castro’s poor decision making in the 9th cost the Cubs a victory and a series win.
This certainly wasn’t the start anyone not on the South Side was looking for. Hopefully, Quade can find the same kind of magic he used at the end of 2010 to turn things around. The schedule makers have done all they can to help by sending a chronically underachieving D-backs squad to Wrigley. I don’t want to place too much emphasis on early-season series, but when you start the season with Pittsburgh and Arizona at home, you’ve got to think the Cubs should come out 4-2 at least. After doing some quick math I realized nothing less than a sweep of the Diamondbacks will be acceptable at this point.