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Missed It By That Much
by Derek Smart
Ah, the first loss of the season. I'd say it's nice to get it out of the way early, but losing stinks, so I'd be lying. It was one of those games that never quite felt right - everything seemed a little off, and the team felt flat, like someone who had just gorged themselves on a delicious meal, failing to realize that it might slow them down during the evening's planned activities.
It's only game two in a very long season, though, so no reason to get down in the mouth! Perk up, chaps, and read along as I take you to: The Land That Bullet Points Forgot.
Much like I noted regarding Carlos Zambrano yesterday, Greg Maddux has three distinct performance types that look something like this:
Mild-Mannered, Professorial Mastery
Last night, again, we saw #2, as Maddux gave up only three hits in the first four frames, yet saw two of them leave the yard, making his competence undeniable, and our discomfort palpable. This was followed by another feature of this type of Mad Dog outing - the Nibbled to Death By Ducks Inning.
In frame five, Maddux only gave up three singles, but thanks to an unwise attempt by Nomar Garciaparra to tag out the lead runner on the second batter's ground ball, and the consecutive nature of the opposition's hits, two runs were plated that wound up being the difference in the game.
Nothing was hit terribly hard, they were all just nibbles, and if they had been spread out over another inning or so, they would have been completely inconsequential. However, that's not a characteristic of many Maddux turns in this late stage of his career, so this time around it was the difference maker.
Luis Gonzalez V2005 = Steve Finley V2004
Corey Patterson's got a new swing going on, and I'm very curious to see what the results will be long-term. His old habit of letting go with his left hand on the follow-through always bothered me - it seemed as if he was sacrificing some late bat control for, what? A degree of comfort? Some extra power? The fulfillment of a Fred McGriff fetish?
Now he's holding on with both hands through the entire swing, and while I will reserve judgment until a larger set of results are in, my initial impression is that it's a good thing to do. It seems like it should increase his ability to make minute, late adjustments to pitches, reducing his strikeouts a bit and garnering a slight increase in the solidity of his contact.
I'm just guessing on that, as I don't have enough playing experience to be able to say for sure (anyone who can confirm or deny my contention, please do so in the comments), but my logic circuits tell me it should be so. Of course, it's also true that it won't help him decide that he shouldn't swing at the heater in his grill, but I'll gladly take any improvement in Corey's game, be it massive or marginal.
I knew it would come: the first in-game decision or series of decisions that set my blood to boiling. This year the initial infractions surrounded pinch-hitters, and those who have read much of my previous spillings can guess the names that raised my ire.
First, we have the bottom of the seventh, where we have two outs and nobody on. The team is down two runs, and what is needed most of all are baserunners, so Dusty Baker turns to....Jose Macias? Really, folks, what purpose does this serve beyond getting Bob Melvin to pay for your dinner that night.
If you want a man who can get on base and bring a little speed to the party, by golly, there's Jerry Hairston Jr. sitting right there. What one might be saving him for, I have no idea, but that's the only reason I can think of for not using him then. Do you want a chance to score? Bring in Jerry. Do you want to bring on the bottom of the frame? Bring in Jose.
That's a small quibble, though, as there's only a marginal increase in the likelihood of scoring a run at that point since there were already two men gone. The real egregious offense came in the top of the ninth, Cubs down a run with two out and a man on first. Ideally, you want some power, but more than anything else, you want someone to not make an out, so naturally you turn to....Neifi!?
Seriously, for what purpose was Jason Dubois put on the 25-man roster if not to pinch hit in that situation. True, Neifi! nearly got a base hit for his trouble, but the fact is he didn't, and his chances of doing something positive were smaller than Dubois' no matter how you choose to quantify them. It's just plain silly to have Dubois and Hairston completely unoccupied while your two worst bats go into the game, but unfortunately, I have a feeling this wasn't the last time we'll see this pattern.
Nothing like a little high dudgeon so early in the season. I'll cut down on my coffee intake tomorrow if things don't go well tonight - then maybe I can be more civilized. I have a bad feeling that might be necessary, since tonight's matchup pits Brandon "I Throw What Cubs Don't Hit" Webb (he and his sinker have an ERA of 1.10 against Chicago) against Professional Ticking Time Bomb, Ryan Dempster. Where's my bottle of Pepto?