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So Far, So Good
by Derek Smart
It's been a good weekend thus far, so I'm in the mood to comment.
Greg Maddux was solid on Friday, working a very efficient 6.1 innings and allowing only 4 hits and 2 walks, with the lone run coming on a homer to right by Jim Edmonds. He did make a few more mistakes than the one Edmonds lost in the crowd, but thanks to the big wind blowing in, they didn't result in damage.
Actually, I think it's interesting that it was the Cardinals rather than the Cubs who were hitting towering but ultimately harmless flies into the teeth of the howling gale. This has been a favorite activity of Cub hitters over the last couple of seasons, and while it's still very early in the year, it's nice to see them at least have the potential to abandon that as a style choice.
I'll absolutely buy into the idea of sitting Todd Walker when Greg Maddux is on the hill. Defense becomes the priority in that situation, and with Walker's deficiencies in that area, it makes good sense to have a better glove man in the game. I'll even buy into the idea that in Friday's case, Neifi! was a better choice than Jerry Hairston, since Hairston had a pretty extensive record of bad work against the Cardinal starter, Jeff Suppan (he's 2 for 19 in against him in his career).
However, I will not under any circumstances buy into Neifi! hitting in the two hole. Anyone who says that Neifi! going 3 for 4 renders the strategy defensible is engaging in the worst kind of ex post facto reasoning. There was no cause before the game to believe the King of Exclamation Points would go 3 for 4, or 2 for 4, or even reach base at all, and with the tremendous issues the club had getting men on ahead of Derrek Lee last year - issues that Mr. Perez had no small part of - you'd think a lesson had been learned. Okay, maybe not, but a fella can hope.
Don't know about you, but I'm going to say that Derrek Lee has found his timing. The two homers he's hit at Wrigley thus far have been no-doubt jobs, which is particularly impressive considering the conditions. I'm going to guess that this evening's game will not feature a pitch to The Savior belt-high on the inner-black.
Saturday's contest presented us with a familiar scenario: the Cubs and their opponent locked in a fierce duel between two starting pitchers, both featuring their best stuff. One team takes a slim lead and looks to be in a controlling position, but the starter tires after six hard-fought innings, and when the relief corps are called upon, they quickly relinquish the lead and the game. We've seen this untold times, but the twist yesterday was that for once, joy of joys, the Cubs weren't on the business end of the bullpen blowup.
In fact, the bullpen has been excellent over the last two games, particularly the work of Bob Howry, who has thrown 2.1 innings, giving up a lone hit and striking out four men in the process. The shame of it is, that although Howry's been excellent, he's also one of the slowest pitchers I've ever seen, which makes watching him pitch slightly less entertaining than the 3 AM Saturday morning offering on C-SPAN2. I'll take it as long as he remains effective, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy the aesthetic.
Speaking of pleasing aesthetics, the difference between yesterday's Carlos and the man we saw on Opening Day was twofold. First, he was able, for the most part, to hit his spots. Or rather, he was able to put the ball in the vicinity he chose, which meant that he was actually able to execute a gameplan and keep hitters off-balance. Second, his pitches started in the zone and moved out, rather than starting out of the zone and moving in, which meant that if he made a mistake it resulted in a ball, rather than a line drive.
The only unfortunate part of the day was the way he seemed to lose his concentration among the onslaught of errors that resulted in the Cardinal runs in the top of the sixth. It looked like another instance of Big Z letting his emotions get the best of him, and points out that there's still a lingering issue for him in this regard. Certainly, he's better than he used to be, but if he wants to be the Cy Young pitcher he's openly expressed a desire to be, he needs to find a way to channel those feelings in a positive way.
More than any position player on the club, Ronny Cedeno needs to prove himself in the early going. That he's gotten a hit in each game thus far and even equaled his total of doubles (3) in nearly six times fewer at bats is excellent news for him, although his two errors yesterday were not. Luckily, his reputation is as a defender, so unless he consistently shows issues with the glove, he'll be given a pass for that.
If there's a worrying thing I've noticed, it's that Ronny looks like he's having consistent issues getting the ball out of his glove. Perhaps it's a weather issue, or simply a fluke, but until I've seen him work more I can't be sure. Hopefully, we won't see this type of thing going forward, because even with his good play in the first four contests, his hold on a job remains the most tenuous among the non-pitchers.
Beyond the simple fact of winning two in a row, the very positive result of the last two outings is a likely reduction of the pressure on tonight's starter, Sean Marshall - as much as one can ease the burden of a kid making his first Major League start at Wrigley Field versus the Cardinals on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Those basic stresses are bad enough, imagine if the series rested on his shoulders?
Thankfully, it doesn't, so here's hoping Marshall can bring the stuff he brought for most of the Spring and end this thing broom-style.