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Welcome to the Machine
by Derek Smart
After his first start against them this year when the Cubs forced him to throw 94 pitches over five innings, getting nine hits and scoring four runs in an eventual 8-7 victory, Aaron Harang has had three consecutive solid outings, giving up a total of eight runs over 24.1 innings while throwing only 312 pitches in that span.
Cincinnati has won all three of those games, and now that they've won the last six in a row and clinched the season series, the Little Red Machine That Usually Can't has declared their head-to-head ownership of the 2005 Cubs in the same inexplicable way that the Cubs seem to have done the same to the Cardinals (although there's still time for joint ownership of that item).
That this team has only managed 11 runs in the last four games they've played against what is arguably the worst pitching staff in the Majors speaks well to my point yesterday about this club not being up for a miracle run. If you can't get it done against a team like this, you won't get it done at all.
Plunk or walk. It doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned, but what is clear to me is that if Greg Maddux faces Javier Valentin again next year he needs to do one or the other to the Reds' catcher rather than throw him another hittable pitch.
Don't get me wrong, Valentin is having an excellent year - hitting a career best .296/.382/.570 in 207 PAs - but if you remove the mere 11 PAs he's had against The Professor, his line becomes .278/.367/.470, which is still good, but the fact that he's made that much of an impact on his season's numbers with 5.3% of his plate appearances tells a lot about how much he's tamed Mad Dog.
Plunk or walk. Do what feels right, Mr. Maddux, but please do one of those.
A few years from now, when he's throwing mop-up middle relief for the Devil Rays, emptying the hotel room mini-bar on road trips and crying himself to sleep while infomercials for hair-replacement clubs flicker on the Magnetbox, will Sergio Mitre look back on last night's outing and say to himself, "That's the night I became an ex-Cub"?
It's hard to pinpoint these things - it's not often in baseball that you get the equivalent of capturing Ralph's heart breaking on film - but after a couple years of, at best, showing flashes of adequacy, and at worst, featuring long stretches of combustibility (how anyone has a GB/FB of 3.61 yet gives up 11 dingers in 56.1 innings is beyond me), it's difficult to believe that the Cubs are anything but through waiting for Sergio to fix what ails him.
Last night may have been the final straw, or it may have come earlier in the year (giving up the triple to John Mabry that led to winning run in the extra inning Zambrano/Carpenter game couldn't have helped), but whether it zoomed by earlier or later Mitre's moment has, indeed, passed, and any time he spends on the Cubs' roster beyond this season is time and roster space wasted.
Matt Murton's bringing the power on, hitting a homer in his second consecutive game last night. As I've said before, this is the only thing the Cubs haven't seen consistently enough as of yet to consider giving him the left field job next year, but a little more of what we've seen in the last two games could make the argument against him baseless.
The kid has good speed, a solid glove, and a great approach at the plate, so the only reasons not to give him his place at the table are a lack of pop - which hasn't been a problem in the minors - a slightly below average arm, and his youth. The pop seems to be coming, the arm doesn't bug me (that's what left field is for, after all), and I'm all for youth.
If there's a potential issue coming it's when Jim Hendry feels the need to get a veteran fourth outfielder "in case" Murton falls on his face, which essentially gives Dusty license to hose the lineup on a daily basis (anyone remember a couple guys named Choi and Karros?). Hopefully, Murton will be good enough to make even Dusty love him.
If there's a game the rest of the season that the Cubs should dominate, at least on paper, it's tonight's matchup of Eric Milton versus Carlos Zambrano. Of course, Milton took it to the Cubs in his last outing against them, and as I mentioned earlier, the Cubs of late appear to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Cincinnati Reds Mediocre Baseball, Inc. It's time to save a little face, boys!