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Doubling My Displeasure
by Derek Smart
This afternoon's loss, like any loss, was hard to take. That the Cubs are now 0-2 after losing The Savior to injury may be unsurprising, but that doesn't make it any less galling, and while there were a number of things to take issue with today - from the fifth inning walk-fest, to the club's sudden inability to capitalize on juicy offensive opportunities - I'd like to focus on a single thing that I feel illuminates some basic issues that we'll likely be dealing with for 2-3 months.
There is an art to the double-switch, but there is also a science, and the more I watch Dusty Baker implement this strategy over the years, the more I feel like I'm watching the scientific and artistic equivalent of a lab rat with a half-eaten crayon. Today, the Cubs were faced with a rough situation in the bottom of the fifth, with Glendon Rusch having lost all semblance of control, and Albert Pujols due up with the bases loaded. Clearly, it was time for Rusch to go, and Dusty called on Scott Williamson for the job, a solid choice.
The bullpen had gotten quite the workout Friday night, so whoever was brought into the game, Dusty wanted him to stick around for more than one out, which was understandable. However, the pitcher's spot in the order was due up fifth in the following inning, and for Dusty that was too close for comfort, so he decided to make a double-switch. The problem here is when you take that tool out of your box with your #5 hitter starting the next frame, you're going to have to yank either your #3 or #4 hitter to make the move worth your while in terms of distancing yourself from the possibility of having to hit for your pitcher in the middle of a rally - the whole point of the exercise.
So, what you're doing is exchanging a certainty for a near certainty, taking the almost-sure-thing of having your chosen reliever start the next inning (you could, after all, have a big enough rally to bring his spot to bat, which you would naturally be happy about), in exchange for removing the total certainty of having one of your best hitters in the lineup. This, to me, is a fool's trade, particularly when it involves removing Todd Walker for Neifi! Perez in a game that still requires your team to score to win.
This was made all the more egregious by Derrek Lee's absence, not just because if he were in the game none of this silliness would have transpired, but more because without The Savior around, one could make a pretty solid case for Walker being the team's second best hitter, or even its best if one is taking current slumps into account. Of course, that's apparently not how he's viewed by Baker, who seems to have tricked himself into believing that Walker/Hairston/Neifi! are essentially interchangeable parts, who while they may have certain strengths and weaknesses, have no outstanding qualities that should prevent him from treating them as puzzle pieces with similar shapes once the game has begun.
This is, in a word, stupid, and beyond this double-switching issue, if there's a single game during Lee's absence in which Todd Walker is not in the starting lineup, barring injury or pronounced fatigue, there should be a pitchfork and torch parade up Clark Street to bring the monster to heel. Say what you will about Walker's defensive deficiencies, but Todd is a hitter, and as badly as the Cubs needed his bat before Lee went down, that's nothing compared to the situation as it stands - a situation that, judging from his choices today, Baker has no handle on whatsoever.
That Williamson's performance in the sixth necessitated the entry of Scott Eyre in the inning and yet another double-switch - a move which brought with it another offensive downgrade in the form of Freddie Bynum (hitting in the three hole, no less) for Matt Murton - further illustrates how little understanding Baker has of how to deploy this strategy, and how badly things can go when Dusty is forced to think. Of course, with things as they are, Dusty's going to be forced to do a whole lot o' cogitatin', and if that doesn't double your displeasure, nothing will.