Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Zambrano, Hill lead Cubs to victory

It's nice to have a breather every now and again.

After the Cubs gave Zambrano a 9-0 lead in the fifth inning, Lou Piniella decided that was going to be enough for the Cubs' ace. Sure, Zambrano was at 80 pitches, but it was a good move on the part of Piniella.

Having pitched the final game of the first half and the first game of the second half, Zambrano didn't have a break during the All-Star game; he pitched on regular rest. Zambrano, essentially, was pitching every fifth (occasionally, sixth) day from April until now and will most likely continue that trend until September and hopefully into October.

Zambrano had averaged 118 pitches per start since he turned his season around on June 6. Of those 8 starts, seven were made on regular rest and he had had only one start since April 13 where he threw less than 103 pitches. A little rest for Zambrano doesn't hurt.

Piniella was able to stretch out righty Sean Gallagher, a starter in the minor leagues, to pitch four innings of relief and finish the game. Gallagher ended up earning his first career save in the Majors before his first career win. I wonder how many more saves he'll have in his career.

Offensively, Koyie Hill was the story. Somehow managing to remain with the big league club after the additions of Billy Petrick and Jason Kendall to the 25-man roster, Hill showed the Cubs that they had made the right move. After blasting a solo homerun on Monday, Hill ripped two doubles and knocked in five runs today. Who said that Cubs' catchers couldn't hit?

It's going to be interesting to see who gets the start behind the plate tomorrow and in the near future. Starting Jason Kendall last night was obvious; Piniella always likes to get new guys into the game right away. Starting Koyie Hill today was equally obvious. Not only was it a day game after a night game, but Zambrano has always faired well when Hill was recieving him.

Piniella does like to ride the hot hand, but Jason Kendall was brought to the team to be the every day catcher. Besides, Lou may have already painted himself into a corner. After Tuesday's loss, the Cubs' manager said of Kendall, "We'll give him a day off [Wednesday] and get him in there on Thursday."

Nonetheless, for the second time this month, the Cubs were able to bounce back from an awful team performance and do all the things right again. After Ohman surrended the winning run on a bases-loaded walk and defensive miscues by Kendall and Lee, it looked like the Cubs may have been returning to the Cubs we had seen in the first two months of the season. Not so.

A troubling trend for the Cubs has been the fact that they would always seem to get plenty of hits but never enough runs. Today, the tables were turned. Drawing a season-high and mind-boggling 10 walks, the Cubs managed to score 12 runs on just 10 hits. They did strand 7 baserunners, but for the first time in a long time, it was less than the opposition.

The two errors may be a cause for concern, but both were pretty tough errors. The defense has been stellar of late and I don't anticipate that trend changing any time soon.

Look out National League, the Cubs are playing smart baseball!

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