The Chicago Cubs won their fourth consecutive game Friday, beating Cincinnati 6-4 in the opener of a three-game weekend set at Wrigley Field. Starter Rich Harden lasted just four innings, but got help from the Cubs bats, as Geovany Soto homered and Aramis Ramirez went three-for-three.
Despite another rough outing in which he surrendered three runs in one inning of work, Cubs reliever Jeff Stevens earned his first career victory. Stevens, who turned 26 last Saturday, now has a 9.72 ERA in seven appearances with Chicago this season. Stevens will try to work out the kinks this winter, as he figures to step into an expanded role next season for the Cubs.
The Cubs jumped out to their first lead in the second inning, when the catcher Soto hit a sacrifice fly to score Ramirez. The Reds answered in the top of third on a Joey Votto single, but the Cubs took the lead right back when Ramirez singled through the left side to score two in the bottom of the inning. Soto then added his tenth home run in the bottom of the fourth.
After Stevens gave up a game tying three-run homer to Jonny Gomes in the top of the fifth, Ramirez drove in Kosuke Fukudome with a two-out single for his third RBI of the day. The Cubs would not trail again, and Bobby Scales provided late insurance when he doubled to score Ramirez again.
For the Cubs, the game offered a taste of the potential of the 2009 team. Soto and Ramirez, who last season combined for 50 HR and 197 RBI, have seen those totals dip to 22 HR and 91 RBI due to a mix of injury and tough luck: Soto has raised his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate, but has seen a precipitous drop in production, mostly because of a very unlucky .245 batting average on balls in play.
September Auditions: Aaron Heilman pitched exceptionally out of the bullpen, notching two perfect innings while striking out three. Heilman may well find himself battling with Stevens and David Patton for a spot in the Cubs pen next year. If Chicago elects to engage him in the arbitration process. Heilman will make $1.65 million for 2009.
Carlos Marmol nailed down his eighth save in as many tries since being named the team's closer, with a ninth inning in which he allowed a walk and a hit while striking out two. He continues to assert himself as the number one choice for that role going into 2010.
With the win, the Cubs get back to five games above .500 for the first time since beating Pittsburgh at home on August 15th.