In what may have been the most pathetic display of baseball I have ever seen, and trust me there has been a lot over the years following the Chicago Cubs, the game they played Tuesday night against the Houston Astros may just take the cake. Nothing but lazy and sloppy defense came out of this game, and buried the Cubs in a 5-0 hole before the second inning was over. There is not one single player who is at fault, as a matter of fact there are several who helped doom the Cubs before you most people could find their seats.
Firstly, I never want to see James Russell ever pitch in a game for the Cubs again, much less start a game for them. Being placed on a 50 pitch count, the youngster making his first career start could not even get out of the second inning before reaching his limit, and allowed five runs to cross the plate. To think, we yell at Carlos Zambrano for being at 80 pitches in the fifth inning, that is nothing compared to the crapfest that Russell delivered to us. Perhaps he should be sent back down to the minors so that he can work on not only learning how to manage his pitch counts and work on not throwing more than 25 pitches per inning, but also working on throwing balls that are not hit as though they are on a batting tee.
To make things worse, our substitute pitcher on the night failed to cover first base on consecutive bunts to lead off the bottom of the first. I do not care who the base runner is, that is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated. If he is to stay with the major league roster, he better make sure to take bunting drills every day until he is able to get to first in time to field a throw.
The rest of the pitching was just as bad, however Jeff Samardzija was not great, but not bad at all coming out of the bullpen. He gave up two runs over three innings of work, and I will take that effort every time out of him. As much grief as I, and all Cub fans, give him, he deserves credit for a decent outing. Jeff Stevens and Marcus Mateao put up scoreless innings to help the Cubs as much as they could, but that is where all good things ended for the Cubs pitching staff. John Grabow came into the game and decided to take whatever doubt there was in the minds of the Astro fans that this game was still in jeopardy; as he usually does when he comes into a ball game.
Russell’s less than pathetic pitching was not helped by any of his outfielders, all three of them decided to take the night off from defense. We are used to seeing Alfonso Soriano drop the occasional fly ball or bobble a ball when he goes to make a play, so that is nothing new. However, not to be out done, both Marlin Byrd and Tyler Colvin got in on the act by misplaying the same ball that was bouncing to the wall. Colvin also allowed a ball to drop right in front of him later in the inning, when he could have likely made a sliding or a diving catch. If that were Soriano, he would have been barbequed for that lack of hustle, but hey fans love Colvin and Byrd so those two plays likely will not get a mention elsewhere. Add in Reed Johnson dropping the ball that was scorched to deep center and you have every single outfielder coming up short on fly balls. Johnson though, did have a very impressive effort on a fly ball to the following hitter, reminiscent to the remarkable catch he made against the Cincinnati Reds a few years back, which he just missed catching.
The outfield defense, or lack thereof, was not the end of the ugly defensive play in the first two innings. Everyone’s favorite new player, Darwin Barney, also had a brain cramp which allowed another runner to cross the plate. After Soriano bobbled the ball, he threw a strike to second base which helped get Bill Hall in a rundown between first and second. Granted, the base runner was out of the baseline (which the umpire completely missed) but the tag should have been applied before the runner from third was allowed to cross the plate. Or, if you are smart, you ignore the runner between first and second and throw to third or home to keep the other guy from scoring. I know he is young, but that is something that you should learn early on. Let’s not forget the two blunders in the eighth inning by Blake Dewitt. After Johnson dropped a deep fly ball, he threw a strike to Dewitt, who likewise dropped the ball. He also committed an error on a ball hit right to him. Another ugly defensive error to add to the mix.
The hitting has not been horrible, they did get a few good hits to land. The problem comes into play when you take into account that they had very little, if any, timely hitting. Even in the sixth inning when there were men on second and third with only one out, the Cubs could not even score a run as Hall caught a blooper hit off the bat of Soriano into “no mans land” which would have scored a run. Granted, Colvin actually got a hit, which was actually turned into a home run, but for the most part the hitting was perfectly pathetic. Another example would be Reed Johnson leading off the eighth inning with a double, only to be stranded with the next three men making outs. They showed some signs of life in the ninth getting the first two men on base, second and third with no outs, but could only muster a single run, not that I really expected them to actually score the 10 runs needed to tie the game.
To steal a line from one of my favorite baseball movies, “Bull Durham”, “this is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” Sadly, the Cubs went 0-3 with this obvious concept of baseball. The pitching, the hitting and the defense all completely dropped the ball early on in today’s game, leaving the Cubs sitting behind the figurative eight ball.
With the Cubs having one more game against these Astros tomorrow, all we can do is hope and pray that Zambrano is on his game and can give this team some serious innings while twirling a gem. If we lose tomorrow, we are going to have a very ugly road trip as we head to Denver to face the Colorado Rockies for a series starting Friday. Even if we win tomorrow, we face the likelihood of ending a road trip with a record of 3-6 or 4-5. Not a good way to come home if you have any hopes of contending in your division.
The bullpen for the Chicago Cubs is finally set. With the departure of Carlos Silva, better late than never, the team opted to go with Marcos Mateo to round out the middle relief portion of the pen. With seven pitchers in the Cubs pen, they are prepared to go into battle, and believe they have more than enough to sustain any lead which is handed to them, or to keep the game within reach if a starting pitcher is pulled with the Cubs trailing. In case you missed the official announcement as far as who is in the pen, allow me to fill you in.
Outside of the newest addition of Mateo, the Cubs will also be taking left handed pitchers James Russell, John Grabow and Shawn Marshall. The other three men in the pen will be right handed pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood and of course Carlos Marmol. This may not be the most talented bullpen in the league, but they are not the worst bullpen either.
Obviously, as with every team, there are pitchers in the pen which the fans are less than pleased to see making the cut. You do not have to take too long to think about who those pitchers are for the Cubs. Take a few seconds to think about that, and come back. I will start with those three.
I am not sure which pitcher is the least desired of the bunch, but I will start with Grabow; only because he comes first alphabetically. When he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, he did not do a bad job at all. A very respectable stat line backs that up. The problem comes into play with Cubs General Manager extending his contract, and paying him more than he was worth. Nothing was more evident of that than his poor performances in the 2010 season, which you might be able to write off to his being injured most of the year. Right now though, he appears healthy so there are no more excuses. If he pitches well as he did in 2009, he will be a nice addition to the pen. However if his performance mirrors last season, then the Cubs will be in trouble.
Russell is likely the most tolerable pitcher of the three less desirables, only because he is young and still has a chance to rebound from his first year, which was not that great. Being the third left handed pitcher in the pen, he is likely to be a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). Put in to get one tough left hander out. Perhaps if he succeeds as a LOOGY, he may be used for full innings at some point this season. Regardless, in his second season, first full season, he may not have much of an impact if he is used for one batter a game. He might be the most irreverent pitcher in the pen, unless Grabow gets injured again.
Then we have Samardzija, who appears to be the bane of all Cub fan’s existence. He has yet to live up to expectations, even though he has had his moments where he has looked like everything we have been hoping for. However, those moments of greatness have been too far and few between. Perhaps this year, which is his final guaranteed year, he may finally be close to figuring things out, and become a real major league pitcher. The Cubs have not done anything to help him out on his quest though. They rushed him through the system, and threw him from bullpen to rotation and back again so many times that his head is likely still spinning. Not to defend his defaulting talent, but pitchers are creatures of habit and like to know what their role is. If you are constantly changing what they are supposed to do, you would be hard pressed to fully blame him for his failures.
Mateo is a flame thrower, and could really help the ball club by blowing people away. Not much is known about him, nor how he will convert to the big league level, but looking at his skill set, he could turn into another solid setup man in the near future.
With Marshall, you have a pitcher that many fans would love too see be given a full year to prove himself in the starting rotation. However, I feel he is best served in the bullpen; ironically he seems to agree. In a recent interview on 670 The Score, he mentioned that he actually likes pitching in the bullpen better because he doesn’t have to use all of his pitches, and has no need to set up various pitches for later use. If he continues to have his great success in the bullpen, then our left handed setup portion of the pen will be well taken care of.
Then we have long time fan favorite, and returning Cub, Wood. Many fans will say that the team made a massive mistake allowing him to leave in free agency two years ago. That is a mistake that was rectified this year when he came back to the Cubs at a massive discount. If he pitches as well for the Cubs as he did for the New York Yankees last year, the Cubs will have no problem getting the ball to Marmol in the ninth.
Finally, we have the strike out and walk machine himself. As I noted in a previous blog about him after he got his contract extension, he is the most inconsistent pitcher in baseball of the past four years. That being said, no one strikes more fear into batters than he does, and he does not allow people to get hits off of him. If he didn’t walk the world every other time out, or hit at least one batter an inning, he would be unstoppable. If the ball gets to him, your chances are high that the game is all but over. He may give you a heart attack every time out, but he gets the job done.
For me, and most likely everyone else, the key to the bullpen is the back end. With Wood and Marshall in the set up roles, you will not see many leads evaporate before closer Marmol has the opportunity to lock down the save. In many ways, the setup pitchers are more valuable to a team than the closer, and the Cubs may very well have two of the best. If they perform as well as they have done in years past, these three could turn every outing into a three inning affair.
With the Cubs starters slated to get 73 wins, at least in my starting pitchers thread, the bullpen will need to win at least 15 games in order for the Cubs to be a viable contender for this season. Bullpen wins and losses are very hard to predict, so I will not even try. I will just repeat that they will need to be responsible for at least 15 wins, and that is to only have a shot to compete. The pen has holes that will have to be over come, but the back end is more than enough to give you hope.