Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
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by Derek Smart
That's two games in a row where the Cubs' starter is humming along only to meet with a 'disaster inning'. Alright, so three runs in a frame is about as far from disaster as I am from handsome, particularly when they're the only three tallies your pitcher allows over seven innings, but it's a deadly serious problem on a night when your primary offensive weapon is Henry Blanco.
There wasn't much to be happy about last night, so let's put ourselves out of our misery with some appropriately glum and gloomy bullets.
I enjoy stolen bases as much as the next guy, and as far as such plays go, steals of third are as exciting as things get these days. Yet, despite my appreciation of them as an art form, that doesn't mean that steals of third are anything but a tactically bankrupt strategy in most cases.
This was illustrated with extraordinary clarity last night when Jerry Hairston was thrown out attempting to steal third with one out and Aramis Ramirez at the plate. Allow me to break it down:
Ramirez was hitting third last night, ahead of the blistering hot Derrek Lee. While not a solid idea when allocating playing time, it makes some sense to arrange things that way in order to force pitchers to come after Ramirez in hitters counts - something they haven't done all year, and that Ramirez has had trouble adjusting to.
Hairston was already in scoring position, and when he ran, Ramirez was up in the count 1-0.
When Hairston was caught, he greatly reduced the opposing pitcher's need to go after Ramirez, as the worst case scenario if he refused to give in to Aramis was now Lee at the plate with two outs and a man at first, rather than Lee up with one out and men at first and second.
I think it's important for the entire team to be on board with the moves their manager makes, and do things on the field that enhance rather than sabotage the goals espoused by said moves - their manager may be insane, but I'd rather see a bad strategy well executed than a bad strategy thoroughly botched (of course, I prefer good strategy, but what are the chances of seeing that?).
With Ramirez in the three hole hitting in front of Lee, an obvious goal of Dusty Baker's was to get Ramirez some pitches to hit. Hairston risking, and eventually being, taken off the basepaths was a strategy with very little reward that, in turn, made one of his manager's goals much more difficult to accomplish.
Besides, what's the harm in being at second with Ramirez at the dish? Even if he makes an out, Lee is waiting behind him, and risking opportunities for men hitting over .400 to come to the plate with a man at second in order to secure an extra base is sillier than Charles Nelson Reilly on the X-Files.
Speaking of keeping your head in the game, I don't care if you were called out after standing on first for a full five minutes before the ball got to the bag, frustrating as missed calls may be, as a player, your job in that situation is to stay in the contest while your manager does the talking. Corey Patterson forgot that aspect of his occupation last night and got tossed after making a toss of his own - ie, his helmet in the general direction of the offending umpire.
I understand frustration, but the score was still 1-0 at that point, and doing something that will so obviously get you thrown out late in a tight game is a mistake the Cubs can't afford. While this team appears to be light-years ahead of last year's version in terms of temperament, it still can't afford these kind of stupid and avoidable incidents.
There's no doubt that he's a more potent bat than Todd Hollandsworth and likely deserves the bulk of the playing time in left because of it, but the 'Free Jason Dubois' movement lost some momentum last night, as The Prisoner not only went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts, but managed to transform Bill Hall's eighth inning hit from a single to a triple with as bad a misplay as you're likely to see from a Major League outfielder.
In the end, if Dubois never gets to be a regular on this ballclub, or any ballclub, it will be his truly deficient defense rather than a perceived need to protect him from the big bad right-handers of the league (against whom he's 3 for 6 with two doubles and a homer this year) that will render him a mere potent part-timer instead of the very useful regular he deserves to be.
Tonight, it's the Human Yo-Yo, Ryan Dempster, against The Man The Cubs Couldn't Hit, Victor Santos. The Cubs have yet to lose four in a row this season, but I've got a bad feeling about this one. Here's to hoping I'm more wrong than usual.