I know I'm not supposed to be impressed when the home team beats up on the likes of the Washington Nationals. Worst team in baseball. Organization in disarray. Interim (and not very good) manager at the helm.
I'd even been warned before the start of this series that the Nationals would implode at the first sign of any success, and well, that fan was pretty much correct.
But what I've seen over the course of the weekend was a long-overdue power surge by the Cubs, the sight of both Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano prospering in their respective new roles, and more than anything, some actual grit from a team that frankly has been lacking in it this season.
Kevin Gregg's two-inning effort last night was probably the toughest performance of the season by a Cub, and the effort today, a 11-3 win to complete the four-game series sweep, was exactly the sort of breakout game that many fans have been looking for. And I am very impressed with most everything that I saw.
Okay, not quite everything. Kevin Hart—recalled for this game in place of the optioned Sam Fuld—looked SHAKY in just about every frame of his five innings of work. He walked five, give up five hits, and looked way too hittable overall.
Honestly, I find myself watching Hart and waiting for him to turn into a pumpkin, as I can't shake the feeling that he's just a start or two away from teams figuring him out. The break on his pre-2008 slider is gone, and I think he just looks like another middling bullpen filler without it.
And Jake Fox needs much, much work at third base. His mishandling of a couple of routine plays in the fourth inning, including a force out at home on Ronnie Belliard, looked much tougher than they should have. He hit a homer in the sixth to make up for it.
But the killer for the Washington was the fourth inning, when the Nats turned this game into amateur night, with a combination of a pair of errors by Josh Bard and Alberto Gonzalez to extend the inning, and bad pitching by Garrett Mock that would allow the Cubs to put a seven spot on the board.
The Cubs would bat around in the inning, with Soriano starting things off with a two-run homer, his 16th of the year.
From there, things just got weird. Mock flung a wild pitch, allowing Mike Fontenot to reach second, and then walked Koyie Hill. Now, at this point, Mock giving up an RBI single to Hart should have been the worst, but the inning was by no means done.
Once Fukudome singled, and took second on the second error of the inning, this time by Josh Bard on the throw home from Nyjer Morgan, it was goodbye Mock—and the game— and hello to reliever Julian Tavarez.
The Cubs would grab another pair of runs of Tavarez before the inning mercifully ended, but you're not coming back from something like that when you're the Nats.
And with the game well in hand, we got to see an emptying of the bench, and an extended outing from Jeff Samardzija, the lost man in the Cubs bullpen. A little rough, given this being his first outing in almost two weeks, but effective. He gave up a homer to Adam Dunn in the seventh, but that's practically a right of passage for NL pitchers.
With the Brewers 5-3 loss at Cincy, the Cubs are sitting a couple back of first, and looking much better heading into a big series with the Phillies this week. To be the best, you have to beat the best.
Knocking around the Nationals won't fix everything that ails you, but don't be surprised if this doesn't give this team the swift kick in the ass that they've been in need of most of this season.
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