Are the Cubs a different team? I think they are. They defeated the Washington Nationals 5-4 behind the pitching of a solemn Carlos Zambrano (5-6), who was worried about his nephew. However, it wasn’t just Zambrano’s pitching that was improved; the Cubs are better, happier.
Jeff Seidel has posted an article at the Cubs website titled “Big Z draws strength from family in win.” Zambrano’s nephew is in intensive care back in his home country of Venezuela due to an undisclosed infection. The Cubs have allowed Zambrano to return until Saturday. “Big Z” dedicated the game to his nephew at his brother’s request.
As Seidel reports, the game wasn’t just about Zambrano. Alfonso Soriano, batting from the seventh position, hit a three-run homer. Tyler Colvin, batting in the eighth position, hit a two-run homer. These were batting position changes that interim manager Mike Quade had made.
The Cubs are putting together offense, defense and pitching for the first time in a long time. Quade’s admonition to “relax and play hard” seems to be paying off. The Cubs beat Nationals’ starting pitcher John Lannan (5-6).
When the series started, the Nationals were 53-73 and the Cubs were 51-74. The Cubs have now tied Washington’s win record at 53 games. I understand, in the big scheme of things, this doesn’t mean much, but, in terms of turning things around, it means a great deal.
Of interest is that the Cubs pitching is going much further. Zambrano went into the eighth inning, while yesterday’s winning pitcher Casey Coleman went into the seventh inning.
Can a manager make that much difference? Yes, a manager can make that much difference. In this case, I don’t think it is as much a matter of baseball knowledge as it is perspective.
Stop and think about it. Lou Piniella is very loyal to baseball and his mother. His mother is very ill, and he is not a quitter, so he doesn’t want to leave the Cubs when they are having a bad year. Furthermore, it means leaving baseball for good. When all of that is on a person’s mind, he is going to have a hard time making baseball decisions, and the team is going to feel his angst.
With Quade, the Cubs players have been given permission to have fun and relax and accept the season for what it is.
Ryan Dempster is starting for the Cubs tonight; it wouldn’t surprise me if they swept the Nationals.