While the fact that the Diamondbacks beat the Cubs was sufficient to catch most national commentators by surprise it was the magnitude of it that surprised me. Chicago was beaten in three straight and only led for one-half inning the entire series, between Soto’s homer in the top of the second on Thursday, and Chris Young‘s blast in the bottom of the same innings. The much-hyped Cubs offense managed a total of six runs in three games, batted a collective .197, and went 2-for-23 with runners in scoring position. None of those facts are conducive to victory; put them all together, and there’s the series, right there.
Arizona simply outplayed the Cubs, but also out-hustled them, and the results were clear, even looking at the heart of the Cubs order, Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. They went 6-for-38 (Stephen Drew alone had seven hits for Arizona) with 13 strikeouts. As a sign of their failures to produce, Augie Ojeda had more extra-base hits and RBIs in the series than a trio who combined for $32,250,000 in salary this year; that’s about as much as the entire Diamondbacks postseason roster.
The other factor which was a constant through the series was the Diamondbacks’ bullpen. The Four Relievers of the Apocalypse (Juan Cruz, Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde) mentioned in my preview were all Arizona used, and they pitched 8.1 shutout innings, with five hits, two walks and eight strikeouts. When handed the lead, they kept it, and that, at least, was simply a continuation of the first 162 games in the year. Of particular note, however, was Melvin using Jose Valverde to close out all three wins, even though the latter two were not save situations. Both he and Brandon Lyon appeared in every game; however, with a day off in the middle, and five until the start of the NLCS, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The first game went pretty much as was expected: a pitcher’s duel between Brandon Webb and Carlos Zambrano, with both men on their game. We were tied 1-1 at the seventh-inning stretch, when Cubs manager Lou Piniella made the fateful decision to remove Zambrano, despite him having thrown only 85 pitches. This was to protect him for game four, where he was scheduled to start on short rest—but one wonders if “pulling a Piniella” will now enter the baseball vocabulary for taking out your starter too quickly, in the same way Grady Little will forever be known for leaving Pedro on the mound to dry in the 2003 ALCS.
For, when handed to Carlos Marmol, who’d posted a 1.43 ERA in 69.1 innings during the regular season, the tied game lasted three pitches—Mark Reynolds smacked the fourth into the bleachers, for the eventual game-winning run.
The second was decided, not by the bullpens, but the starting pitchers. Though Ted Lilly had a slightly-better ERA+ during the regular season than Doug Davis (119 compared to 111), it was Lilly who cracked, getting hooked with one out in the fourth, and trailing by a score of 6-2. If he looked wobbly in the first, giving up two walks, it was the long balls which killed him: given a 2-0 lead through Soto’s homer, Lilly immediately handed it back, and more, on a three-run blast by Chris Young and an RBI triple from Eric Byrnes. In just 3.1 innings, he gave up seven hits, four walks and six earned runs. While Davis was not exactly brilliant—four walks, five hits and four earned runs in 5.2 innings—he was good enough, and did strike out eight Cubs, including Soriano and Ramirez twice each.
Down 0-2, Chicago returned to Wrigley, hoping to take the third with their home fans roaring them on, then push the series back to Zambrano on Sunday and take their chances with a game five back in Phoenix. That was the plan; Arizona had other ideas, and wasted no time, Chris Young dispatched the first pitch of the game out of the park, stunning the crowd. Left to play catch-up again, the Cubs couldn’t take advantage of some huge opportunities, and were clearly pressing in their at-bats against Livan Hernandez, a fact that worked in his favor. The key at-bat came in the fifth, when Arizona clung to a 3-1 lead, and the bases were loaded for Chicago with one out, thanks to three walks from Hernandez. He then ran the count on Mark DeRosa to 3-1 but, as the crowd roared, got the second-baseman to swing at a questionable pitch, and ground into a double-play. That was the Cubs’ last, best hope, and they managed only one base-runner after that point.
Overall, everything worked brilliantly well for Arizona. Fears that all the games would give Chicago a home advantage never materialized; the pitchers pitched, delivering an ERA of 2.00; and the hitters hit, posting a collective OPS of .890. Once Webb had given them the first game in the series, the only time things looked remotely dicey was when Chicago enjoyed their only lead in the second inning of the second game. If I did wonder how our young team would react to a deficit, youth apparently comes with self-doubt sold separately, and they responded immediately. I think being the underdogs suited them just fine, shifting the weight of expectations onto their opponents: ninety-nine years of waiting seemed to do as much to hamper the Cubs as anything Arizona did. The NLCS, against Colorado, promises to be another interesting battle: after this, who would dare go against the Diamondbacks?
References & Resources
Check back tomorrow for Tim Dierkes’ recap of the series from the Cubs’ perspective.