GameCast: April 11th - Cubs at Milwaukee THE BLOODENING
Another night, another attempt to recover from a frustrating defeat. The Cubs offense failed to capitalize on the mediocre pitching they faced last night, but they've got a chance to make up for it now as they face a guy with a career record of 43-46 and ERA of 4.47.
So far in this short season, the offense has been very hit or very miss, averaging 7.5 runs when they win and 2.5 runs when they lose. But probably the most interesting story of tonight is a twin-billing, and both revolve around the team's most passionate characters.
Carlos Zambrano. Rugged. Mean. Off to a good start. Will he build on his momentum as he steams towards the best season of his career? Or will he falter and lose focus?
Lou Piniella. Feisty. Potentially going senile. Lou is the reason the Cubs have developed the so-called Cubbie Swagger these past few years. But while Lou has the right attitude and the track-record of success that the Cubs need to emulate, sometimes his decisions ... well, sometimes they scare the shit out of me. Take batting Alfonso Soriano leadoff, for example. Chances are the Fonz will finish the year with a good batting average, a respectable OBP, and damned near 40 homeruns. No matter how loudly some dopes gripe about him, the Cubs can absolutely win with him playing leadoff. They've done it two years running. But while maybe Soriano batting leadoff isn't enough of a flaw to affect a team's success from games 1 through 162, is he really the player we want batting leadoff in any playoff game ever? Just asking.
The other Piniella Problem is this - he seems to have a genuine distaste for bullpens. And not just his, but all of them. I base this supposition on the fact that throughout the long course of his managerial career, he has exerted the patience of a bleeding hemopheliac at a blood bank. He gives up on a reliever after the first walk. He yanks guys at the first sign of trouble. He gets angry. He gets noisy. He finds a pitcher who's successful and he uses him until the guy's shoulder starts making grinding noises during every pitch. Much like batting the wrong guy leadoff, this is something a team can get away with for 162 games - especially if they have the talent to replace burned out arms or pitchers who get prematurely abandoned. But in the playoffs, we want our team to have a well-oiled, seasoned bullpen who are comfortable with their roles and have earned the faith of their skipper. Is the way Piniella handles his pen at all conducive to winning a playoff series? Again, just asking.
Anyway, these are probably going to be recurring storylines all year long. But this might be the first time in my life that I give up on a winning manager who's leading my favorite team toward the playoffs. Thing is, if other people notice these trends, I definitely won't be alone.
Then again, any time one of our readers complain about a Cub's play, I caution patience and talk about how early it is. So I'll definitely give Uncle Lou plenty of rope to hang himself with. I promise.
Kosuke Fukudome! Fooky built onto his big night against the Astros by going 2 for 5 last night. After 14 at bats, Koss-Kay is batting .429 with a homer. I'm not positive, but those figures are probably going to drop.
Milton Bradley. I've never seen a guy with a .083 AVG have a .722 OPS, but while his discipline hasn't turned into hits yet, Bradley is going to explode. He hit his first homer as a Cub yesterday - also his first hit as a Cub - and I expect him to keep it up.
Mike Fontenot. Little Babe Ruth is batting .412 this year. I've been advocating that he be the #2 hitter in the lineup. Then again, he's yet to draw a walk. Either way I can't complain - FonteYES has been hitting.
Ryan Theriot. Ignore the AVG, the hits, the runs, and focus instead on the boneheaded defense that cost the Cubs yesterday's game. Then, turn your mind back and recall a time in October when Theriot was a part of the Infield of Errors that Carlos had to suffer through in Game 2 of the NLDS. Maybe it's time for Lou to mandate some extra practice for TheQuietRiot.
Kevin Gregg. Not a great start for the Cubs closer. Based on how he pitched in March, he obviously wanted this gig. I wouldn't expect Lou to take it from him any time soon, but at this rate Carlos Marmol will be playing set-up man to his own closer (thus putting him on pace to toss 120 innings in '09) by mid May.