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Look! Look! A Shiny Thing!
by Derek Smart
I imagine this will make me something of a wet blanket after a weekend that had some glorious weather in the Chicago area to go along with some pretty decent baseball, but while I like a winning series as much as the next guy, and there's a lot to be said for being 6-3 against the Cardinals for the season, I'm unable to get my optimism tanked up.
One of the things to bear in mind, is that the Cubs got through these last six games without having to face their opponents' best starters, and they'll likely get through the next series in the same shape. That's a huge stroke of luck for a club trying to find any kind of consistency on offense, and something to factor in as you evaluate whether the club has really turned a corner.
If the Cubs were actually in this thing, the injury to Albert Pujols would be a huge stroke of luck, but they aren't, and even if they were I'd be sad to see him forced to sit in what was clearly shaping up to be his best season, and perhaps one of the greatest of all time. No matter who you root for, if you're a fan of the game at all, Pujols going down is terrible news, because you don't often get to see greatness of his caliber at the height of its powers. Best of luck to him on a speedy recovery.
The only thing Cub fans should have taken away from the club's 14 inning victory on Friday night/Saturday morning was that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The team did not play well, and as anyone watching the game saw, the only reason they came away with the victory was because, for whatever reason, at critical junctures in the contest, the Cardinals played worse.
The Cubs left 13 men on base, 8 of them coming before the ninth inning, but that's a deceptively low total, as the Cubs also hit into 4 double plays in those first 8 frames, and got caught stealing twice - once on a fairly legitimate attempt by Tony Womack in the first, and once on a complete knucklehead play by Ronny Cedeno, going too early on an apparent squeeze. That's a total of 14 men the Cubs got on base in eight innings but couldn't get home to score - or a scoring rate of one per eight baserunners.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, left 8 of their 17 LOB after the ninth, unable to capitalize on bases loaded situations on two occasions. In their defense, one situation had the bags juiced with two out, and the other filled 'em up with one out and Josh Hancock forced to bat, but at some point, when you're continuing to get guys on, you have to get one of them in, and luckily for the Cubs, St. Louis was simply unable.
It was a sloppy, dull game, and if justice were properly served, I'd imagine both teams would have come away losers.
In one of those instances where a performance is helpful in the short term, but potentially damaging in the long term, Glendon Rusch threw a solid if unspectacular game on Saturday, and likely got himself at least one more start, and probably nailed down the gig until Mark Prior returns.
Granted, it's not like the club is swimming in options at the moment, having seen nearly every pitcher they've brought up for a start mid-year implode in spectacular fashion, but any outcome that prolong's Rusch's stay in a Cub uniform has negative implications down the road, no matter how much fun it is in the present.
Despite Glendon's good work, the pitching hero on Saturday was Roberto Novoa, who threw three innings while only giving up a double and a walk, and managing to do it all on only 33 pitches. It's pretty clear, in fact, from watching the lineup the Cardinals were forced to run out there, even before the injury to Pujols, that a large portion of their lineup has hacktastic tendencies similar to those sported by nearly every Cub.
If you were to take the Cardinals' walk total for the season, remove Pujols' contribution and add back in an optimistic total like that run up by the team's player who's second most likely to stroll - Jim Edmonds - you'd find the Redbirds sitting one walk ahead of the 13th place Brewers in the National League, and only nine free passes ahead of 14th place Colorado. Beyond Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen, St. Louis does not have men who are terribly willing to keep their bats on their shoulders, and that could be one of the major side-effects of Price Albert's owie.
Speaking of impressive bullpen work, Carlos Marmol looked like the real deal on Sunday, manageing to both light up the gun, and snap off some nasty breaking stuff, while staying in the vicinity of the strike zone often enough to stay out of trouble. He also had some of that "effectively wild" thing going on, made most clear during Hector Luna's at bat when he buzzed him up and in, causing Luna to look like a man who simply didn't want to die during the rest of his turn.
If nothing else, I hope the team uses a more conservative approach with Marmol than they have with some of the other youngsters they've brought on board, using him out of the pen for a while during this period of need while Scott Williamson is on the DL, and resisting the temptation to stick him in the rotation.
I know two innings isn't much to go on, but based on his AA stats, this kid's a keeper, and perhaps taking the route the Twins have used to such success with the likes of Johan Santana, and now Francisco Liriano, would be the most prudent. Then again, that would imply that this organization can learn on the fly, and I've yet to see any evidence of that.
It didn't take long for me to become frustrated with Dusty Baker's "Phil Nevin Era" lineup construction, but then, I don't know what else I expected. I understand that Nevin has issues with right-handers, and Tony Womack has actually been less horrifying than expected, so playing Sir Woe in front of Nevin isn't the worst idea ever hatched by Baker.
However, using Neifi! instead of Todd Walker with a lefty on the mound, simply because there's a lefty on the mound, is pure folly. Not only does it go against the idea that the reason to acquire Nevin in the first place was to allow Walker to play second while somebody who could hit a little took over at first, but Walker's recent splits don't even support sitting against southpaws.
True, Walker began the year completely unable to connect against lefties, hitting .130/.286/.130 against them in 23 at bats in April, but he's assaulted them at a .333/.393/.583 clip in 24 at bats since the beginning of May. There is no reason short of injury or blackmail for that on-field configuration to be sent out again, and you'd best believe if it is, you'll be hearing me scream about it.
I certainly hope the Cubs can continue playing well, because there's nothing I like better than beating the Astros. Seriously. They've been having their issues too, so it looks like an ideal time to be facing them at their place of business. Here's to a win tonight, and a few more going forward.