Back-to-Back In the Shutout Groove

Game Thirty-Nine – Cubs 5 Nationals 0

wflag.jpg After a 51-minute rain delay, the Cubs won their first series since April 24-26 against the Florida Marlins and will go for the sweep on Thursday afternoon against the Nationals. Sean Marshall picked up his 3rd win of the year and Cubs’ pitching combined for a 1 hit shutout, their first back-to-back shutouts since late June of last year. Marshall bounced back and only allowed 1 hit in 6 innings and the bullpen threw 3 perfect innings for the Cubs first combined 1 hit shutout since June 26, 2005 against the White Sox.

This game had it all….an excellent pitching performance, timely hitting and one of the best executed games of the year for the Cubs. The mental mistakes that have plagued the Cubs in recent weeks were not made and they found the confidence that they have been missing. Sean Marshall showed no signs of a hang-over from his last outing against the Giants and retired the first 10 batters he faced….a walk to Marlon Byrd in the 4th inning with 1 out. Marshall had very good control through the first 4 innings and struck out 6 on the night….he has not pitched like a rookie for most of the season and on Wednesday it was more of the norm from the young left-hander. Marshall gave up 2 walks in the 5th with 2 outs, but was able to pitch out of trouble by striking out Robert Fick to end the inning (Fick argued the call and was ejected from the game, it was a beautiful curve ball) and although he was behind the hitters most of the inning, he did not allow a run or hit….his composure was incredible to watch, very Maddux-like. Alfonso Soriano broke up the no-hit bid with a lead off single in the top of the 6th and stole 2nd and 3rd, both off of Marshall. Soriano did not affect Marshall’s rhythm and he struck out the side in the 6th, his 100th pitch of the night recorded his last strikeout of the night….Marlon Anderson and Wednesday was the first time Marshall had thrown triple digits pitches in his career. Marshall’s one hitter was aided by a beautiful diving catch by Juan Pierre in the 4th off the bat of Soriano.

The bullpen was perfect over the last 3 innings of the ballgame and struck out 4. Bobby Howry pitched the 7th, Scott Williamson struck out 1 in the 8th and Scott Eyre struck out the side in the 9th….

Juan Pierre got the offense started in the 1st inning when he led off the game with a bunt single, he stole 2nd (number 13 on the year) and was advanced to 3rd on a good piece of fundamental hitting by Matt Murton….Murton grounded out to 2nd base. Todd Walker hit a soft liner for the 2nd out of the inning but Ryan Zimmerman could not handle a ground ball off the bat of Michael Barrett….he booted it and Pierre scored. That error by Zimmerman was the 23rd time this season the Cubs had reached base due to an opponent’s error; that leads the Major Leagues.

The Cubs put 3 more on the board in the 2nd inning. Jacque Jones led off the inning with a double, moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt by Jerry Hairston and scored on a suicide squeeze by Ronny Cedeno….both Hairston and Cedeno’s bunts were perfectly executed as well as Jones’ base running from 3rd….he did not break too early and made a good slide that knocked Gonzalez’s leg out from under him to reach home. Sean Marshall stepped to the plate and hit a soft liner to Damian Jackson, after pulling the bat back after showing bunt. Jackson thought he had caught it, showed the umpire and Marshall beat out the throw. After a Pierre fly out to deep left, Murton took a 4-pitch walk and Todd Walker singled to center to score Cedeno and Marshall after a very nice at bat where he made Day really work. Michael Barrett walked and Aramis Ramirez flied out to the warning track in right field to end the inning. The Cubs sent 9 to the plate in the 2nd and executed the fundamentals of baseball….perfectly.

Although the Cubs had 9 hits on Wednesday, they did not score again until the 6th. Freddie Bynum pinch-hit for Marshall to lead off the inning and hit his first career home run into the basket in center field. The Cubs continued to show patience at the plate and recorded 4 walks, but most importantly they made starter Zach Day throw 84 pitches in just 4 innings of work. Day had only allowed one earned run in his two previous starts (Reds and Pirates) and made Nationals pitchers throw 138 pitches on the night (on Sunday Padres’ pitcher Clay Hensley threw 91 pitches in 9 innings). Pierre and Jones recorded 2 more hits each, Todd Walker drove in 2 more runs and the Cubs left 8 on base.

The only negative from Wednesday’s game was the injury to Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez left the game in 4th with a mild lower back strain. The Cubs have not provided any updated information on his injury at this time. (Check back for updates)

Good teams are able to beat the teams they are supposed to….Time to get the sweep….go Kid K!!!!