One week has seen pieces suddenly falling into place for the new Cubs.
Anthony Rizzo's arrival has proven a success, the rookie getting his third game winning hit Sunday in a 3-0 victory over the Houston Astros, completing only the second three-game sweep of the year.
The bullpen was excellent in all three games, not allowing a run and securing Carlos Marmol in the closer role with saves in all three games.
And starter Travis Wood, the pitcher Theo Epstein's team valued enough to trade away lefthander Sean Marshall, made his second straight strong outing with 7 2/3 scoreless innings.
``That was another pretty dominating outing,'' manager Dale Sveum said as Wood (3-3) extending his scoreless inning streak to 18 2/3 innings, dating to June 19 against the White Sox. ``It was impressive how he kept the ball inside as well as [execute] all his pitches. He stuck to a game plan, no walks, there wasn't even a lot of hard contact.
``That was as good as it gets--though he had that the last time out, too.''
Wood allowed only three hits--and delivered his own offense with a leadoff double in the sixth when the Cubs scored all their runs off Wandy Rodriguez (6-6).
``I love hitting and being on the bases,'' Wood said smiling. ``It's part of the game.''
After a disappointing spring and time in the minors this year, Wood, 25, is riding high on confidence.
``You feel relaxed out there and things keep rolling into place,'' he said.
``The confidence he has now if off the charts,'' Sveum said. ``That's the reason we traded a quality reliever like Sean Marshall for him because that's what we thought about him, and what I saw across the field when he was with Cincinnati.''
The Cubs provided another day of great defensive work for their pitchers, with second baseman Darwin Barney making two circus-like catches, one in foul territory and another in short right field.
``He was running all over the place,'' Wood said.
Improving the Cubs woeful defense of 2011 was one of Sveum's priorities. He has seen progress there and in other areas as the All Star break nears.
``I think things are falling into place as far as the bullpen goes--it's much more stable than it has been--and the lineup will be more stable than it has been.
``The addition of Rizzo and a power-hitting left-handed bat makes a difference. It always has.
``We had so many one-run games [we lost] where we didn't get a big hit or a home run. Those things should be a little better in the second half where we win more games than we have because of that.''
Sveum's first tenure as a manager has been less about learning how to do the job than dealing with the unexpected--particularly how poorly the team has performed against left-handed pitching.
``I think I've learned about lineups and such, but we just for whatever reason haven't done much against left-handed pitching, which should have been a strength.
``You roll with it or give guys a little longer and do whatever you can.''
The Cubs recorded back-to-back victories against starting left-handers in the series, though that statistic is still 6-17.
The shutout was the second of the series and the sixth of the season.
Wood keys sweep of Astros
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