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Good or Bad, Happy or Sad
by Derek Smart
A three-game series was shortened to two thanks to some weather related intervention on Friday, and whether you think that's a good or a bad thing would depend entirely on which of the two games that followed you opted to take your cue from. But in the interest of full coverage, I've got bullet points from both!
I've been rooting for LaTroy to be able to handle the closer role, partly because of the peace it would bring (debates on who should be closing games are perhaps the most tiresome discussions around), and partly because I just hate seeing someone of obvious ability consistently fail.
Well, so much for my well wishing, as Mr. Hawkins appears to have put the final nail in his closer coffin by giving up the tying and winning runs in the ninth on Saturday. I'm not a huge believer in capital "C" closers - in other words, I don't necessarily believe that a select few have the innate ability to get those last three outs - but I'm starting to think that there are, instead, those few pitchers who should not perform that duty, and it certainly seems that LaTroy is one of them.
Taking over the end of game duties in the immediate aftermath is Chad Fox, who's a solid enough choice for the role, except he'll only be able to do it two days in a row. I'd guess that third consecutive save opportunities will be given to Michael Wurtz, who I expect to handle the job with aplomb. In fact, if I were in charge, I'd just hand the job to him for a bit and see what he could do with it.
Beyond the obvious bullpen problems, there was a moment in Saturday's game the rubbed me the wrong way. It came in the bottom of the eighth: the Cubs had taken the lead on Corey Patterson's homer, and now Derrek Lee was at second with one out in the frame and Jason Dubois - who was 2 for 3 with an RBI double - coming up to face a wild and hittable Solomon Torres.
Except he wasn't coming up, because Dusty chose this moment to pinch hit for him with - wait for it - Jose Macias.
I've been wracking my brain ever since trying to figure out the reasoning behind the move, and I'll be damned if I can make it work on a planet where logic exists. I believe that Dusty was trying to protect Dubois from the horror of facing a righty (goodness knows he couldn't have hit many of his 31 AAA homers in 2004 against them) and in general, to protect his platoon advantage in the at bat by sending a switch-hitter up.
There are multiple problems with this:
Dubois was obviously seeing the ball well that day, going with pitches and making solid contact
Torres was having big problems, having given up a homer and a double to the first two men he faced, and experiencing control issues both in and out of the zone
The only reliever the Pirates had ready to go was lefty John Grabow, who was certain to stay out of the game if Dubois came to the plate, thus exposing a struggling Torres to another batter while a man was in scoring position
When Macias was called upon Torres was immediately off the hook: Macias is a switch hitter and he'll have the platoon advantage no matter who's on the mound, so it was the perfect opportunity for Lloyd McClendon to get his vulnerable hurler out of there
To my mind, one can only have an "advantage" when one shows ability in a particular situation. Therefore, Macias, a man who since 2002 hits .247/.271/.360 vs. lefties and .251/.294/.374 against righties, has no platoon advantage, as he is overmatched by pitchers of all stripes
I suppose that last point is the most damning - Macias simply can't hit - but every last bit of that situation screamed for Dubois to stay in the game. Dubois was having a good day: you want him in there. Torres was having a bad day: you want him in there. Grabow could be better than Torres: you want him in the pen. Macias was certain to be worse than Dubois: you want him on the bench.
Instead, Dusty did the exact opposite on all counts, helping to squander a scoring opportunity that could have added what turned out to be a needed insurance run. I know it's easy for me to sit here and write about this - I don't have to be down there making the decisions - but this still strikes me as basic logic that should be applied no matter what position you're in.
While his outing was shortened by the effects of some shoulder tendonitis, it was nice to see Kerry Wood looking like Good Kerry for once. His stuff is starting to round into shape - nice movement on his heat, decent breaking stuff, good change - and if his shoulder doesn't keep him out (the word is that he's expected to make his next start), I'd expect us to see more of the same. With all the injuries on the offensive end, the Cubs could sure use it.
Whatever Neifi!'s got, I want some.
It's the Reds at Wrigley tonight, with The Franchise going to the mound for the third time. Show me a good outing, and I might, just might, start thinking he's finally turned the corner.