Obervation #1: Tyler Colvin
Some of you may remember I wrote an article a while back that was a bit, well, skeptical about Colvin's present and future role. Much of it had to do with his lack of plate discipline and I questioned as to whether he'll have enough power to be a corner outfielder. Well, Colvin may have answered one of those questions last night and left the door open for the other.
Colvin's first AB was a thing of beauty. He got ahead on the count, waited for his pitch and hit an absolute rocket several rows deep into the RF seats. I think Colvin is answering questions about whether he has enough power, but the key to the AB was Colvin taking a couple of bad pitches and working the count to his favor. With Tommy Hanson behind 2-1 on the count, Colvin had the luxury of looking dead red on the next pitch. So when Hanson tried to blow a 95 mph fastball past him, Colvin turned it around and drove it about 105 mph the other way. It shows what you can do with 25 lbs of added muscle and a pretty swing when you've got the advantage at the plate. Colvin's next 3 ABs weren't as good, but AB #1 gives us some hope.
Observation #2: Outfield Defense looks much improved.
Having Colvin in LF, Byrd in CF, and Fukudome in RF has to be one of the better defensive set-ups we've had in awhile. Colvin cut off a ball in the LF-CF gap that I thought was going to the wall when it left the bat. Either Colvin is faster than scouts say he is or I'm used to watching Soriano out there. I think it's a little of both. Colvin doesn't start quickly but once he's under way, he really eats up ground with those long strides. If he can get good reads and good jumps consistently, he can negate that lack of burst and be a very good defensive outfielder in the corners. He also showed a nice arm by throwing a line drive, one-hop throw to first as he tried to double off a runner after catching a line drive in LF. Fukudome also cut off a ball headed for the gap later in the game and got off a quick, strong throw to 2b. He held the Braves runner to a single, keeping him out of scoring position in a tight game. Despite the homeruns, the Cubs won this game with solid pitching and good defense. This time the outfield pitched in and helped out the infield.
Observation #3: Can Randy Wells keep this up?
I think so. There were 6 shut-out innings but it wasn't pretty. Wells, with only one strikeout, was heavily dependent on his defense to help him get out of jams throughout the game. But as long as he consistently keeps the ball on the ground and in the park, Wells should continue to give the Cubs solid outings. Just don't expect any artistry out there. Fangraphs has a great write-up if you prefer an analysis by the numbers. Check out their link: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/randy-wells-shuts-down-atlanta
Observation #4: Bullpen holds the lead!
Marshall and Caridad continue to impress out of the pen. Look for Piniella to start leaning on them more and more as the season progresses. Marmol was erratic but showed nasty stuff. The movement on his pitches can best be described as cartoonish. As for you Mr. Grabow, I've seen Mr. Marmol pitch and you are no Mr. Marmol. You, my good man, need to throw some strikes.
Observation #5: Kudos to Lou on playing great matchups
Although Baker didn't contribute on offense, benching Fontenot with a hard thrower like Hanson on the mound was the smart thing to do. A good manager has to know his player's limitations and Fontenot's limitations include hitting guys who can throw high heat or anyone who throws with his left arm.
Another good move was choosing this game for Colvin's debut -- and I'm not just saying this because he hit the game-winning homerun. Hanson was a tough matchup for Soriano's eroding bat speed, whereas Colvin had no problems with Hanson's fastball. Perhaps just as importantly, the Cubs needed their best outfield defense with Wells on the mound, simply because Wells consistently pitches to contact. That part was probably a coincidence, but I wouldn't mind seeing Colvin in the OF every time there's a righty on the mound for the opposition and Wells and Silva take the mound for the Cubs. Both Wells and Silva tend to keep the ball on the ground, but it's a nice security blanket to have your best defensive outfield out there on those inevitable occasions whre they leave the ball up a little.
It was only one win but there were many encouraging things that came out of it. Let's hope Piniella continues to rotate in the appropriate players for the situation, and puts the best team out there on a day-to-day basis.