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You Snooze, You Lose
by Derek Smart
I have no idea how a game as plodding as this one came in under three hours, but the Cubs and Jays managed to finish this lackluster contest in two hours, thirty-nine minutes - and not a moment too soon, if you ask me. Sure, there was the requisite attempted rally by the Cubs - too little too late, as such things often are when Jose Mesa isn't part of the equation - but it was the one spark of life in an otherwise dreary game, and it left me wondering where that bounce had been during the previous 150 minutes.
Of course, I didn't have to fly in from California the night before, like both of these teams did, so I should keep my mouth shut. Naturally, I won't. Time to lock and load!
After two innings I was ready to point to my post after Koronka's first start where I basically said the Cubs should quit with him while they were ahead, but the young lefty settled down nicely and managed to keep things close. There was never a moment when he looked in control to me, and danger seemed around every corner, but he did what he needed to do, even when his defense was busy making things harder for him.
I still think he's a start or two away from being replaced by Jerome Williams (who has given up a solid 11 H, 3 BB, 4 R, and 7 K over 12 IP in his two starts for Iowa), but he deserves kudos for keeping the game winnable, which is all you could possibly ask of him.
Winnable, that is, if there was even a semblance of offensive production on the night. Double plays absolutely killed the Cubs last night, and while I find dealing out opprobrium therapeutic at times, it would be unfair of me to not toss some credit Gustavo Chacin's way. After all, if a Cub pitcher had wriggled out of trouble with similar aplomb, I'd be lauding him to the treetops, so while the Fuzzy Bear's sticks deserve some blame, Chacin deserves some praise.
There was a moment in the ninth inning before Jose Macias grounded into the double play that so appropriately ended the contest with the game nearly entirely on the bases when I didn't understand why Todd Walker hadn't been brought in to pinch hit for him. After all, Macias is who he is, and Walker is who he is, so why wouldn't you get Jose out of there at th earliest convenience?
That was before I realized that if Walker was used then, the only men left on the bench to pinch hit for the pitcher due up next were Enrique Wilson and Henry Blanco, who you could argue are actually worse than Mr. Macias. I might have argued that Walker's power potential and less virulent out-making were reason enough to bring him in, the rest of the bench be damned, but I don't think it's a big enough deal to make a stink about. If Macias only makes one out, Walker still comes up able to tie things with a bomb, so the gain in that situation is marginal.
So, I was prepared to let it go, until I looked closer and saw where the real culprit lie - the use of Corey Patterson as a pinch hitter for Jerry Hairston at the start of the Cubs' half of the eighth. Using Patterson for a perfectly useful hitter struck me initially as foolhardy, and in retrospect, might have been the thing that finally bit the Cubs in the ninth.
Of course, when I look closer at that situation, I see that Vinnie Chulk, the pitcher brought in by the Jays, eats right-handers for lunch. Runs needed to be scored as early and often as possible, and Hairston would have likely had serious problems getting on base, so using Patterson then makes sense as well. It's arguable, but again, not to the point where I'd stand up and go toe to toe with Dusty on his thinking.
In the end, the problem is roster construction. Todd Hollandsworth had to pinch hit against a left-handed pitcher in the seventh because there wasn't a legitimate right-handed bat on the pine, and there was little point in bringing Walker in for Macias because the option that would follow him off the bench was so bloody useless.
Even when they go deep in their pen, Dusty Baker almost never uses his twelfth pitcher, so I'd suggest that someone decide which of the extra hurlers should entertain the troops in Des Moines and get another useful bat with the big club, even if he's a lefty like Ben Grieve.
If you're for something to make you feel better, take the performance of the Cub bullpen as a palliative for that nasty case of offensive ennui. Todd Wellemeyer in particular looked great, making the Jays' hitters look downright goofy. As he grows more confident, and management starts to share in that feeling, there will be reason to howl if he's not used in more and more critical situations.
However, I'm still not sold on Joe Borowski. Again, he seemed to be getting away with some awfully bad sliders, either hanging or toothless, and the hitters he faced appeared to be swinging at where they thought the ball would be if the pitch were thrown well.
Still, deception is deception, and if those pitches consistently look like they'll do one thing but wind up doing another, I suppose that'll do just fine. I'm just not convinced that's what's really happening, and I'll be waiting fearfully for the day when teams have seen him more than once and can recognize a yummy hanger for what it is.
Hopefully, both clubs will have gotten their rest last night, and we can witness two teams going at it who look more ready to play. The matchup is better for the Cubs this evening, as Glendon Rusch goes up against Josh Towers. This is the game the Cubs must win in order to avoid the sweep. With Roy Halliday ready to carve some bear meat tomorrow, our boys had best come to get it done.