It's an underrated facet of baseball, something that's often overlooked when analyzing a team. But when it comes to the 2010 Cubs, it can't be ignored. As the title suggests, I'm talking about defense.
The Cubs lead the majors with 103 errors; they had 105 all of last season. They've turned 102 double plays after turning 144 last year because most of their double play chances are ruined by a bobble or a throw that sails into the outfield. The Cubs have exhibited a scary combination of lack of focus and just plain bad glovework, resulting in more unearned runs allowed than any other team, by far. It's strange that Zambrano chose to lash out at Derrek Lee after a play he probably couldn't have made anyways, given that he's probably had a lot of more legitimate opportunities to complain about one of his defenders' handiwork.
Nearly 20 percent of the team's errors have been committed by Starlin Castro (20)--only Ian Desmond (28) has more errors among shortstops. Aramis Ramirez is only four off the major league-worst pace at third base despite having played fewer than 100 games. Ryan Theriot had six before being shipped to LA, and Blake DeWitt has 11 between the Dodgers and Cubs. Even Derrek Lee has six errors this season, more than 13 other first basemen.
Soriano has five--just one away from the major league-worst in left--while Byrd and Fukudome have actually played well. Colvin has four errors in right field, none in left.
It should go without saying, but the next Cubs manager and his army of coaches will have to do a better job preparing the team defensively. The lazy throws, the missed cutoff men, the slow-to-develop double play attempts ... these are not qualities commonly seen in playoff teams.
Errors are going to happen, quite obviously, but not 103 of them. Earlier this week Blake Dewitt managed to bobble a grounder and walk lazily towards it, unaware that the runner got a slow start out of the box. The bobble's going to happen sometimes, though the Cubs have exceeded their fair share this season. The second part should never happen, but it seems like just about every Cub has done something similar this season: Castro didn't hustle over the weekend and allowed a runner to score from third; Bob Brenly just criticized Ramirez the other day for not getting in front of a grounder down the line; Soriano exerts effort like Drew Barrymore makes good movies--I don't think it's ever happened.
Most of the position players will return in 2011, which means the gloves themselves may not improve much. In fact, the Cubs' best defender--Derrek Lee--is gone. But hopefully the mental mistakes and lapses can be reduced, and clearly Castro has more potential defensively than he has exhibited in his rookie season. Defense can be one of those things you don't think about until you don't have it. Unfortunately, it's been a glaring problem with this year's team. I just hope that whomever's in charge next season realizes that defense must not be left off the list of things that need to be improved upon in 2011.
P.S. I have to commend Marlon Byrd for his superb defense this season. He's in the top ten in assists for center fielders, has just two errors on the season, and has made countless highlight reel catches. The Cubs have a number of players who have been defensive liabilities this season, but Byrd has been nothing but a strength. As Len and Bob have pointed out, he absolutely deserves Gold Glove consideration.
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Goat Riders of the Apocalypse is not going so strong, lately. But, GOOD LORD? Can you blame us?
Even the most optimistic, blue sky Cub fans could not possibly enjoy what they are seeing on a daily basis? Losers of 13 of the last 16? As it happens, Hendry and Piniella are pretty much doing what I asked them to do earlier this week - treat the rest of this year as if it is Spring Training 2011. It began when Derrek Lee and Lou himself removed themselves from the proceedings - neither of them are going to Mesa next spring. We have brought up the freshest produce from the farm.
But, once again, it goes sour, because pretty much everyone we brought up has sucked so far. It would have been nice to see Micah the Hoff hit a few quick welcome-back dongs, or a Marcos Mateo pitch lights-out. It is early in our extended Spring Training, but it doesn't appear that any of our recent call-ups are going to help us anytime soon. So, as was the case going into this season, it appears that most of the heavy lifting in 2011 will be done by the men currently on the roster, a roster, once again, that is last in the majors in one-run losses.
So what have we learned thus far in 2010?
10) Alfonso Soriano may not be the most overpriced sixth hitter in major league history - but then again, he might just be.
As a longtime student of the intangible and the psychological, I understand why Hendry signed #12 back in 2007. The interim owner gave him permission to spend whatever it took, and Alf was the premier free agent that winter. Jim was convinced that the Cubs would win a World Series that year or next, and figured if we had, that people wouldn't care that the club would then owe Soriano $18 million a year for all perpetuity. It was a crap shoot, and the first two years, Jim shot eights, but then last year, the dice came up seven, and now we're stuck with a number six hitter with degenerative legs, a miserable glove, and absolutely no knowledge of situational baseball. For the next three years.
9) Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva are the yin and yang of miserable free agent pitching judgement
A few years back, officials at two separate organizations took a look at two big, strong, tough Venezuelan guys named Carlos and decided that yes, these guys were Quality, they would eat innings, win games, and lead men. It would be the wisest thing to sign them to long term contracts worth nearly 8 figures, because everyone knows the work ethic of South Americans is second to none.
Ahem. So it was inevitable that a few years later, los dos Carloses would both be Cubs, serving as twin anchors, keeping us firmly tethered to the bottom, representing the main sunk costs to the most miserable team contract picture in MLB history.
The difference is: Silva the Hutt is a follower, and Z is a leader. There is no way to reign in #38 with the Cubs, none. He appears to respect nobody but himself, which is the very reason why it is going to be so painful when he inevitably moves on to the Yankees a couple of years from now and starts winning games again (hey, Kerry Wood? How YOU doin'?) #52, on the other hand, is a follower, and I honestly feel that in the right situation, with the right guidance from the right pitching coach and staff, that Silva could be poked, prodded, and coaxed in a useful direction. However...
2010 is the death knell of the Larry Rothschild Era
Several of my knowledgeable friends, like the boys over at HJE have called for the head of Rothschild for years now. I personally was torn. For every Wood and Prior who caved in, a Dempster or Marmol seemed to rise up. Maybe, I have always thought, Rothschild wasn't part of the problem.
But lately? Outside of Dempster, Marmol, Marshall, the first three months of Silva and the occasional Gorzellany outing, Cubs pitching 2010 has been beyond dreadful. Walks, mistakes, walks, mistakes. A conveyor belt of arms have made their way back and forth between here and Des Moines.
Here's my problem with Rothschild - these guys pitch well in Iowa, come here, get blasted, go back to Iowa, pitch well, come back, get blasted. And it isn't just a function of the quality of the hitters. It is the command that they seem to lose here. Is it the pressure? Shouldn't be any pressure, throwing for a fifth-place team. And if it is, whose job is it to help these guys acclimate? As I see it, he is taking good arms and turning them bad once they get here.
When the new manager arrives, he should be allowed to pick his own pitching coach.
7) Marmol is a major league closer
Speaking of Marmol, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities in 2010. Yes, the team has the worst one-run record in baseball, but curiously enough, it isn't really the closer's fault. Most of the games have gone the way yesterday's game went - we fall far behind, and either come back to within a run and fall short, or tie it up only to let one of our "middle" guys, usually Cashner, go blow it.
The few saves Marmol has blown, his defense helped blow. Which, speaking of:
6) Our defense utterly sucks
Our catcher is "offensive-minded", a euphemism for a guy who isn't Yadier Molina. Our third baseman is getting old, frail, and losing what little utility he ever had. Our shortstop is better than the man he replaced, yes, but is young and may or may not be a major league shortstop. Our second basemen define 'suck', We got DeWitt because we thought he is better than Theriot, of course, the Dodgers think just the opposite. Uh oh. Our fancy hood ornament, DLee has had his worst fielding year. Soriano has had an Epic Fail year in left. Our slick fielding right fielder can't hit enough to play, and the guy who can hit in RF should be playing left field.
5) Marlon Byrd is a nice player
Byrd does everything pretty well. He is not and will never be an impact major league ballplayer, and his CF play is very average at best. He is the beneficiary of the "Robbie Gould Syndrome", in which he is surrounded by badness, so his relative competence shines brighter in comparison. He is a fourth outfielder on a championship team, and although he actually tries to provide the leadership this team so woefully lacks, he really doesn't have the oomph in his game to back it up.
4) Starlin Castro is a major league hitter
The storybooks are full of great men who started off as middle
infielders who committed a ton of errors in the field, and were
converted to other positions so their teams would not lose their bat.
Mickey Mantle comes immediately to mind, and Alf Soriano is a recent,
close-to-home example. With Hak-Ju Lee in the low minors, there are
discussions that Lee will eventually be the SS, and Castro will play
2nd. Or maybe 3rd, since the 24 year old DeWitt is on board, except
that DeWitt has 'utility guy' written all over him, and don't 3rd
basemen usually hit with more power?
It is easy to forget that Castro was born in 1990, and that he will gain
most of his strength in the next seven years. He will never have
A-Roid power, but maybe Jeter power. The most pleasant development of
2010 has been that, for once, we can believe the hype. Starlin Castro
seems to be for real.
3) Here comes Adam Dunn
A couple of years ago, when it was late in the free-agent season
(this was the year we signed Milton Bradley early, remember) and Adam
Dunn still did not have a team. The only substantial offer for a man
who had averaged 40 homers a year the previous five years was from the
godforesaken Nats, and human nature being what it is, there rose an
effort to find out what, if anything, was wrong with Dunn.
Rumors arose that Dunn did not like playing baseball much, that much of
the conversations that would arise when opposing players would stand on
first base next to the Big Donkey revolved around offseason hunting.
Growing up, Dunn was a football player first, and teams perhaps
questioned his character when formulating contract offers for a
So, he has played nearly every day in Washington, has continued to hit
his 40 homers a year, and has weathered two trade deadlines. You know
what? The man would rather play football and shoot pheasants. But he still hits and we are going to sign a first baseman this winter.
our luck, watch us sign the guy and watch him age faster than the Nazi
mope in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". In my gut, I see us going after
Adrian Gonzalez his off season, and ending up with Adam Dunn. Because
Dunn has always been one of "Hendry's Guys", like the Marquis Du Suck
and Kosuke Fukudome, and we always seem to end up with Hendry's guys.
2) Since nobody seems to know what is going on, Hendry is staying, I guess
The inmates run the asylum at Wrigley Field. As bad as the Cubs have performed, and for as much pressure that the General Manager of a team such as ours ought to be under, compounded by the fact that he has a known history of heart trouble, Jim Hendry looks pretty damn healthy.
Is he taking his statins and his red krill oil? Maybe, but hey, why shouldn't he look healthy? He has the greatest job in the world. Where else in American business can you mess up, again and again, and nobody calls you on it? Wall Street? Well, yeah, but those guys always have the specter of the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission, not the high-falutin college football conference) breathing down their necks. Lots of those guys jump off bridges, lock themselves in their garages with their Bentleys running, but not Jim Hendry. His boss is a failed corporate attorney who doesn't know spit from shinola, who in turn works for a owner who is more concerned with piss troughs and gaudy neon signs than a winning ballclub.
There is only one man on earth who gets to play fantasy baseball for real, and lose all the time, and not get called on the carpet for it. Until there is some accountability established in the Cubs' organization, what you see this year is what you will continue to get in the future.
1) 2011 is going to look a lot like 2010.
Soriano will play for the Cubs next year. Ramirez will play for the Cubs next year. Fukudome will sit on the bench and take the Cubs' money next year. Byrd and Colvin and Castro and DeWitt and Soto will play for the Cubs next year. Jim Hendry has no ability and no gumption to make a blockbuster trade involving young major league talent for impact major leaguers in return. Could you see him somehow packaging Castro and Colvin in a trade for, say, Albert Pujols? Maybe not Pujols, because a Cubs-Cardinals trade will NEVER happen, but something of that magnitude? How about for Miggy Cabrera or Joe Mauer? Young stars for a superstar? Never happen.
As for the pitching, good lord. While the positional outlook seems stale yet static, the pitching outlook is totally fluid, and utterly without direction. We have a #2 starter, maybe a #4, a closer and a utility guy, a LOOGY who isn't really a LOOGY with a torn knee ligament, and about 20 other guys who have walked a lot of batters and given up a lot of late-game home runs. You can't fix that. The only thing you can do is throw a ton of money at it, and HOPE the guys you sign don't get injured or fat-and-sassy.
And Ricketts is NOT going to spend a lot of money in the offseasons. So forget about the Ol' Free Agent Injection.
Fans of the Chicago National League Ballclub have survived the past 102 years on one glorious element: hope. Yep, the same hope that got our president elected, the same hope that is being frittered away by this same president each day. Hope is perishable.
I ate whole platterfuls of Cubs hope as a kid, and into my early adulthood. I confess to have spent good money on the all-you-can-eat hope buffet as recently as fall of 2008. Nowadays, there is very little fresh hope in the steamer, most of it is discolored and spoiled, like the bananas Soriano and the Fukudome skirt steak.
Our third base prospect, Josh Vitters, is rehabbing. The next great Korean hope is still years away. Andrew Cashner was supposed to be the next big thing, but I can't figure out what that thing is supposed to be, unless he is supposed to be a Matt Karchner impersonator. That's something he does quite well.
But hey, Castro went 4-for-5 yesterday. Rookie of the Year, gotta be? Right?
The current state of the Cubs:
All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.
At the beginning of the year, he wasn't. He wasn't hitting anything. Neither was Derrek Lee. And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year. Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them. Over and over again.
Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto. The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.
He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009. The Cubs finished below .500 both years. Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years. As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense. There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins. This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.
But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did. Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs. When he hits, we win. As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.
Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning
This was the biggest non-announcement ever. Of course Lou is retiring. Some say he retired 2 years ago. He did it so people will quit asking him. Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will. I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.
Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.
There seems to be no accountability in this organization. Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy. Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure. Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.
But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney. What exactly DOES he do? How is the Triangle building doing? How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation? What great marketing angles have we exploited lately? When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network? When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it? And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?
A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?
I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place. Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not. A new manager needs to be found. Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there? Is Joe Girardi the guy? How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel? I heard Joe Torre mentioned? Who do you choose? They all have their own qualities.
There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager. Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.
The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.
Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro. Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year. These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.
I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy. I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done. I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above. That's the biggest question going forward for us.
Props to the bats in last night's game. The Cubs can actually hit -- who knew!
In particular, Marlon Byrd and Geovany Soto can hit. Each had two home runs. Derrek Lee added one of his own to give the Cubs five taters against Brewers starter Randy Wolf.
Geovany Soto is now hitting .269/.406/.463 on the season, with seven home runs. He's within striking distance of the .285/.364/.504 he hit in 2008.
Marlon Byrd is leading the NL in batting average, and has 21 doubles and nine home runs. And 34 RBI. And four steals. Very nice, Marlon.
And Derrek Lee's home run last night was a big one -- the 300th of his career. Bravo to that guy. Here's to his continuing to figure out how to get going again this season.
Carlos "The Starter" Zambrano got the win last night, giving up just two hits over five innings. Except actually, he wasn't very dominant: five walks, a HBP, and just two strikeouts. And one of the two hits he gave up was a two-run double to Randy Wolf. Oh well, it was good enough.
Kudos to Andrew Cashner for posting two shut down innings in relief. It's feeling like this team FINALLY has the last three innings of the ball game covered with Cashner, Marshall, and Marmol (all 100% Chicago Cubs products, I might add).
So, yeah: Hooray!
As I ponder why Tyler Colvin isn't in the list of Content, let's talk about a big Cubs win today!
If Aramis and Derrek Lee start hitting like they did today (on top of Marlon Byrd and the aforementioned Mr. Colvin), the Cubs offense should start scoring enough to back up what has been a solid pitching staff this year.
The Cubs jumped all over Roy Oswalt today to the tune of 6 runs on 9 hits in 7 innings. Both Ramirez and Colvin hit shots off of him. Colvin, who I am admittedly not a believer of, seems to have made himself a quasi regular with his early season heroics.
As for Ramirez? Well, I'm not willing to say he's back but I will say that he needs to do 2 things to turn around his season:
1) Stop striking out
2) Hit the ball far
He has been failing at both this year but has now gone two straight games (against two straight strikeout pitchers) without K'ng. I'd like to see him extend that streak and hit a couple of more extra base hits tomorrow.
Ryan Dempster kept up the string of decent pitching performances. Ryan Theriot drew a walk. The bullpen tried to give it away and then Carlos Marmol actually got 2 straight batters out without a strikeout. An interesting day all around.
Wells on the mound tomorrow. Let's take this series and head to Pittsburgh with a full head of steam!
* Starlin Castro had six RBI after three major league at-bats. The man he essentially replaced in the lineup, Mike Fontenot, had 71 at-bats before Castro's call-up. In those 71 at-bats, he had ... six RBI. Fontenot nearly doubled his season's RBI total in his 72nd at-bat of the season with a pinch-hit grand slam.
* Aramis Ramirez has the same number of strikeouts (31) as hits and runs combined (20 + 11 = 31). Ramirez also has a lower batting average (.159) than Ryan Dempster and a lower OBP than Carlos Silva who, prior to this year, had not played in the National League since 2003.
* Speaking of Silva, he has four quality starts this season; he had one all of last season (granted, he was injured for a significant portion of it). Silva has three wins on the season; he had five the last two seasons combined.
* Ryan Theriot had back-to-back games with two stolen bases on April 12 and April 14. He has stolen only two other bases this season.
* Marlon Byrd has 23 RBI this season. The man he essentially replaced, Milton Bradley, notched his 23rd RBI on July 25 of last year.
* Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have combined for fewer hits than Tigers rookie Austin Jackson.
* Of the four Cubs starters with the most starts, Gorzelanny and Dempster have the best ERAs (2.83 and 3.44, respectively) but the fewest wins (1 and 2). Silva and Wells (3.50 and 4.57) have three wins each.
Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year! Check him out over there!
The Cubs walk rate is on the rise. It was down closer to 8 but now it's up to 9.8% and rising. The Cubs are sixth in the NL in this category now and I think they have room for growth.
When you look at the team, you notice that Geovanny Soto is sporting a ridiculous 25.9% walk rate. That should come down but Soto has always had a nice eye. Other than him, only Lee is inflated (just a little at 17.4%). Ramirez is right on his career norm at 8.3% and the following players need to get a move on:
Kosuke Fukudome: 11.3%. Fuku has been over 15% in this first two years. At 15% he comes close to justifying his salary. The problem is, other than playing right field, he is mediocre at all other things he does with the bat. He needs to either keep hitting over .300 with power or start walking even more than he does now.
Ryan Theriot: 6.0%. The Riot has a career walk rate of 9.0% and needs to be closer to that. He currently has an unsustainable .400 BABIP which will come down. If he wants to maintain his value, he needs to get on base in other ways.
Marlon Byrd: 2.5%. This is beyond comical. Byrd has a career walk rate of 7.1% which is ok for a player with his other skills. He dropped into the 5% range in his supposed career year of 2009 and is now down to this joke. No matter what, if he can't get back to the 5-6% ratio here, he will be an out making cipher and will not be worth even the small amount of money he is getting.
Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.
Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.
That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.
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Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.
Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.
Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.
Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!
Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.
Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.
Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.
Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.
Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!
In the top of the first, the first three Cub hitters reached base, giving our so-called "RBI guys" a golden opportunity to stake the team to an early lead.
Mistakes #1 and #2 - Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd each fail to plate the runner from third with less than two outs.
I'm not expecting a grand slam every time we load the bases. Heck, I understand that even the best hitters fail to get a hit 60% of the time. But when you're as talented a hitter as Aramis Ramirez, facing a rookie pitcher in Mike Leake, you've got to find a way to get the ball to the outfield and score your leadoff man from first. The exact same notion applies for Marlon Byrd, as well -- woulda loved a base hit, but failing to generate a productive out is unprofessional, and inexcusable.
We'll talk more later about the collective failings of the middle-of-the-order guys eventually, but for now let's fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 1-0 and Tom Gorzelanny having just allowed a couple of base runners.
Mistake #3 - Alfonso Soriano fails to catch a fly ball to left field with runners on first and second.
What makes the error worse is that I know a guy who could've made that play, so if Soriano's gonna strikeout twice a game and fail to register a hit anyway, why not put Colvin in left after the sixth inning of every close game? Maybe we'll see that happen soon. Fortunately, after Miguel Cairo got lucky and knocked in one run, this happened:
Mistake #4 - Dusty Baker decides to put in Jay Bruce to pinch hit against lefty Sean Marshall.
Okay, not a Cub mistake. But had to be noted. In Dusty we trusty!!!!!
Marshall would take advantage, striking Bruce out. He'd then strike out the right-handed Drew Stubbs, making an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for his being named the primary set-up man in the Cub bullpen.
To the bottom of the eighth we go. After allowing a couple of singles,
Mistake #5 - John Grabow issues a four pitch walk to Scott Rolen.
A walk would be one thing (admittedly still the type of thing you would call "bad"). But you don't even have one good strike in you to throw to a .235-hitting old guy? Furthermore, there are good balls and there are bad balls (that's what she said), and nothing John Grabow threw was anywhere close to the plate. As a result, Grabow himself made an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for being removed from high leverage situations.
This next one is debatable, but I'm gonna go ahead and give it its own bold-faced numerical entry:
Mistake #6 - With the bases loaded and one out, Lou Piniella brings in the young Esmailin Caridad to try to get two outs.
Yes, Grabow had given some indication that he had lost control of the strike zone in the previous at-bat. But I'd still consider him to have a better handle on throwing strikes than the kid who just got up from the bench in the 'pen. I say, Grabow created the mess, why not give him a chance to get out of it? And with Jeff Samardzija warming up in the 'pen at the time, it wasn't like Lou was expecting to come out of the inning with a tie anyway.
As it happened, Caridad walked a run in, and then allowed a sacrifice fly, giving the Reds their second and third runs on the day. The rest was history.
Any lessons learned? I suppose so.
First,I'd advocate to have Soriano pulled after the sixth inning of any low-scoring, close game. Let him swing away early on, but if the pitchers are on Soriano is a sure out anyway (this just in: the Fonz swings at misses at low-and-away breaking pitches that are outside the zone).
Second: I realize we're only six games in, but I can already tell you who I want pitching in the eighth inning when the Cubs have a lead of three or fewer runs. Hint: his name starts with S and rhymes with Sean. Maybe he's at a disadvantage against righties, but I can tell you that as of today, Caridad and Grabow aren't ready to set Marmol up.
(Furthermore, I'm convinced that Grabow never will be. I'm sure he'll be able to get plenty of outs in low-leverage situations this season, but when he needs a strikeout late in the game I just don't know what pitch he has in his repertoire that he can throw to get it.)
And finally, for the final lesson of the weekend, let's give credit where it's due. The Cubs' starting pitching has been pretty darn solid so far, including today's K-tastic outing from Tom Gorzelanny. Seven strikeouts, two walks, four hits -- control like that is going to keep runs off the board, as it did today, with zero earned runs allowed by Gorzo.
It's impossible to justify ignoring Z's opening day masterpiece, but suppose you could do so, just for fun, and you'd have five real good performances from five different starters. So that's nice.
The Cubs head home with a 2-4 record to host the Milwaukee Brewers. Let's hope the fourth, fifth, and sixth hitters (hitting .130, .105, and .143 respectively) get going, and that Marshall gets a chance to set Marmol up in our next close game.