Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
Barbara Feldon Would Be Proud
by Derek Smart
There's nothing like being able to link a player's statistics to popular culture, and with The Professor's ERA standing at a paltry 0.99, I can't help associating the figure with Get Smart, despite not having been around for the show's initial run.
With a last name like mine, it's not every day you see others sporting it, particularly on television, so when the show re-ran during my youth I found myself drawn to it despite the lead character's buffoonery - in fact, it was somewhat comforting that an idiot with the last name of Smart could make it in the world despite his obvious lack of faculties. Takes some of the pressure off, you know.
In any case, digressions aside, I'm in awe of the way Greg Maddux has thrown thus far. To be sure he's gotten a little lucky, but all pitchers get lucky, and for the most part, Maddux has gotten the job done by simply being better than he's been in recent years.
His stuff is crisper, if only a little bit, but that's all it takes to move him from slightly above league average to flat-out dominant. That this fourth victory came against a team he'd already seen - one with a great offensive core - makes this renaissance all the more impressive to me. Viva la Mad Dog! We need you now more than ever.
Not only does Greg Maddux's current ERA evoke a character from an old Mel Brooks television show, but with a little hard work and a lot of luck, he's got a chance to call forth Don Adam's ghost, too. If over his next two starts Maddux throws between 14.1 and 14.2 innings, giving up exactly one earned run in the process, he'll have an ERA of 0.86. Of course, if he gets one out or allows one run too few or too many, those of us old enough will hear Maxwell Smart grimace and say, "Missed it by that much."
Apparently, I have a vindictive streak, because when Jim Edmonds asked for the umpire to check the ball after a called first strike (and after about seventeen previous requests for said umpire to do the same), there was a part of me that sincerely hoped the next pitch would find Mr. Edmonds firmly ensconced on his backside.
Luckily, while obviously angry in the dugout between frames, The Professor is less inclined toward that sort of activity, particularly when the game is still in question. After all, a plunking was likely one of the hoped-for outcomes, along with a possible loss of concentration that would bring with it a yummy meatball.
That Mad Dog took his revenge by both continuing his shutout and helping to increase his lead in the bottom of the frame with a nifty opposite field single speaks to his ability to assess the situation on the field and deal with it as appropriate. Further proof of both his professionalism, and his ability to combat obvious and puerile attempts at gamesmanship.
I both love and hate Ronny Cedeno in the two-hole. I love it because he's got solid bat handling skills, has good speed, and seems willing and able to hit the ball to all fields, sometimes for extra bases. I hate it because he has thus far exhibited an overly eager willingness to sacrifice himself for what I'd view as dubious gains.
Of course, I don't know that all of it is his doing - in fact, I'd assume he's being signalled to do so from the bench - but one of the wonderful things about the days when it was feasible to hit Todd Walker second, was that if Juan Pierre led off the inning with a double, Todd would not be expected to bunt him to third.
That Cedeno is, and that he's not deemed capable of simply attempting to get a hit to the opposite field instead, speaks to how little the fellas in the dugout get what they're doing. If anything, with Derrek Lee on the shelf, your outs have become far more precious, and a willingness to sacrifice them for incremental basepath gains is foolish at best, suicidal at worst.
Don't get me wrong, there are situations where bunting makes plenty of sense, and I'm happy to see that we have men on the roster who are capable of laying one down when the situation warrants it, but a scoreless game in the second inning with no outs, your speediest baserunner at second, and the heart of your order to follow is about as far from that situation as you can get without being in the first inning. Not to beat a seemingly dead horse, but it's another instance of Dusty thinking, and anytime that happens, only trouble can follow.
A news item I've yet to comment on is the demotion of Jerome Williams in favor of Angel Guzman. I'm torn here because, despite Williams' poor performance in the spring, this move smacks of panic, particularly when you see that Guzman hasn't been a whole lot better in Iowa thus far and consider his injury history.
However, if you're looking at upside, Guzman wins hands down, and so it seems that the Cubs' strategy - something they've been geared toward more and more the last couple years - is to hope that their woes are solved by the careful laying of lightning traps. After all, once you've got that stuff in a bottle, there ain't nothin' can stop ya!
Ryan Dempster's scoreless innings streak got to 32 before he was hit up for two run in the ninth yesterday, but in a way, I couldn't be happier. If he's going to cough up tallies, better that they come in outings where he's only there for that work than when the game is on the line.
Not that one can choose when such things will occur, but for me, there'll be less of a feeling of dread associated with his save opportunities if only because there's one less item on the baseball gods' list of things to which they need to restore balance. Superstitious? Sure, but I can't be rational all the time.
I hate to think of any game vs. the Marlins as being a big one, but any opportunities to beat up on the National Leagues lesser lights is one this club can't afford to pass up with things as they are. In particular, they need a good showing from Big Z tonight, since the following game is Willis against Marshall, and the one after is phenom Scott Olsen against the question mark that is Angel Guzman (he's listed as the probable on MLB.com). The Cubs need this series, and to get it, they need Zambrano to get it done.