With a steady breeze blowing out to straight away centerfield, the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres combined for 34 hits and 23 runs in a 12-11 victory for the Padres in front of 5,325 fans in Peoria, Arizona.
The prime hitting conditions made mince meat of starting pitchers Chris Volstad and San Diego's, Clayton Richard. The slugfest featured four home runs and eight doubles.
Richard, the Chicago White Sox product who was a key feature in the Jake Peavy deal, made a strong impression with San Diego immediately after he was dealt. However last season his strikeouts per nine innings tailed off 43.7 percent and his season was cut short in July thanks to shoulder surgery.
If Thursday was any indicator, Richard has not regained his form as he was batted around to the tune of nine runs (eight earned). Out of gas by the fifth, Chicago dinged two over the wall while two more fell just short careening off the fence.
His counterpart was not much better. Volstad is penciled in as the Cubs fourth starter, but was banged up for six runs and nine hits. Volstad had been strong thus far, but as is his modus operandi, too many of his pitches found too much of the plate and Padres hitters made him pay.
The Cubs were ahead 11-6, but two relievers were tagged for six runs in the final three frames to cough up the lead and the game — a foreboding sign for Cubs fans.
After eliminating one curse, new Chicago team president, Theo Epstein, goes after another in the Windy City. Epstein has essentially said — the franchise will not be built in a day — and it will be built sustainably via the farm system.
As for this season, the starting pitching will be similar to a typical Chicago spring, running hot and cold and very unpredictable. Persistent rumors here in Arizona still have Matt Garza on the trading block as he is their most valuable commodity.
The team's strength is the talented and youthful double play combo of Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro.
Oddsmakers have the Cubs at 73.5 wins. If Garza is traded before June, the under 73.5 is a safe play. The only saving grace is Houston doesn’t change leagues until next year, which means Chicago will not finish last in the Central Division.
The San Diego franchise has to do what teams like Milwaukee and Minnesota and Cleveland before them did — draft and cultivate star players that put people in the seats, while filling out the rest of the roster with role players. It's the only recipe for a small market team to turn into a contender.
The Pads might already be on the right track with Cameron Maybin and Yonder Alonso. Nick Hundley, Chase Headley and newly acquired Carlos Quentin, also fit the mold as above average, bargain veterans.
San Diego is projected to win 74 games in 2012.