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Friday, July 19

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Cubs Tue May 01 2012

Big Innings Help Cubs Split With Phillies

Cubs_200.pngIf the Cubs fall behind by more than three or more runs at any point during a game, you get the feeling it's all over at that point. With a team that's currently constructed around starting pitching, any multi-run outburst by the opposition seems nearly insurmountable. Saturday and Monday's games were prime examples of that.

After mowing through the first three innings on Saturday at Philadelphia, fill-in starter Randy Wells couldn't get out of the fourth after issuing three walks and three hits while surrendering four runs to put the Cubs in a 4-1 hole, and an eventual 5-2 loss. With a team built to score one run at a time (mostly from the top of the lineup), recovering from a three-run deficit is just not feasible on a consistent basis.

Monday night was more of the same. Chris Volstad allowed Philly four runs in the first inning, and despite pitching extremely well over the next five innings and getting a game-tying homer in the eighth, the bullpen couldn't keep the Phillies off the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning en route to a 6-4 loss.

During the wins on both Friday and Sunday (both by scores of 5-1), the Cubs were able to put up multiple runs before the Phillies were able to get on the board - allowing the offense to play for a single run at every opportunity in an effort to steadily increase the lead.

Paul Maholm notched his second consecutive quality start (and win) by giving up just one run in 6 1/3 innings in Friday's 5-1 win. But Matt Garza was the star of the weekend with seven shutout innings of one hit, one walk baseball while striking out 10 during Sunday's matinee victory.

Bryan LaHair continued to be a force offensively, getting a hit in every game of the series, including a double on Saturday, two on Sunday, and another in last night's game to go along with his game-tying (unfortunately for naught) homer. He continues to give management a great reason to leave Anthony Rizzo in the minors (which is a good thing), and he may be securing a spot long-term (in left field maybe?) for a team desperate for power.

Catchers, Catchers, Everywhere

With Geovany Soto struggling at the plate (and behind it for that matter), the Cubs seemed poised to give more starts to 26-year-old Steve Clevenger, who had 11 hits in 22 at-bats in part-time duty early on, and has hit over .290 at every level of the minor leagues. That is, until he strained his oblique in batting practice before Friday's game, which required a trip to the DL and is being termed as indefinite.

Soto was fighting a tight back as well, giving the start on Saturday to catching prospect Welington Castillo. The 25-year-old has received a couple of cups of coffee for the big league club over the past two seasons, but could see some extended playing time after a hot start in Iowa (.320/.435/.520) combined with Soto's injury/poor play. He's the superior defensive option (throwing out nearly 40 percent of baserunners in his minor league career), but injuries (see a trend here?) have held him back from ever playing 100 games in any of his five full pro seasons.

Despite a couple of stellar seasons for Soto (in 2008 and 2010), he's more than likely playing his final year for the Cubs. He's making $4.3 million this season, and will make somewhere north of $5.5 million via arbitration in 2013 - a price I doubt the team will dole out for an inconsistent player turning 30, with a pair of cheap and capable replacements in Clevenger and Castillo waiting in the wings.

The smart decision would be to give Castillo the majority of the plate appearances while he's with the big club to continue his development. I doubt that happens however, in an attempt to build Soto's trade value prior to the July 31 deadline. It's a tough call for Theo and Jed, considering Soto is one of the few players that could command a decent return via trade.

 
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