Baseball Toaster Cub Town
A Snowman? In June?!?
2005-06-23 08:01
by Derek Smart

Last night was rough, and these things happen, so rather than make a big stink at the top, I'll just head straight for the shooting gallery.

  • If you're looking for a turning point in that fateful, eight run second inning, I think there are two distinct candidates:

    1. After two pretty hard hit balls to start the inning, it's now men on first and third with nobody out. Carlos manages nicely initially, striking out Geoff Jenkins looking on a call Jenkins likely had a legitimate beef with (it sure looked outside to me, but the camera angle at Miller Park is funky, so it's hard to say).

      Now he's got Rickie Weeks up, who looks like he's doing his best Gary Sheffield in the box and hoping that his production will follow (as a side note, Alex Belth has appropriately dubbed Sheffield "The Punisher", so if Weeks is a younger version of him - after all, in addition to jerking the bat around like Sheff, he's also an infielder coming up through the Milwaukee system, just like the early career of the man he appears to be imitating - what should he be called to honor the similarity, while giving a nod to his youth and inexperience? Little P? The Paddler? The Knuckle Rapper?), and after getting him down 1-2, jams him up and in. It was a good pitch, and Weeks didn't hit it well at all, but he got it up in the air enough to drop for a single and drive in the first run.

      If outs were assigned based on quality of contact, Weeks was out all the way, but unfortunately for Zambrano and the Cubs, this was an instance where luck did not smile on them, and instead of the weakly hit ball resulting in two out, men at first and third, and no score, it was 1-0 with only one out and men at second and third. Sometimes the hard hit balls get caught, and sometimes the dribblers go for safeties, and the latter was the case here.

    2. The other critical juncture came two batters later, after Zambrano had walked Damian Miller to load the bases. Now to the plate comes Doug Davis, as bad a hitter as you're likely to see in the Majors - so bad that other pitchers cringe and complain about his besmirching of the profession when he approaches the dish.

      A couple of things go wrong here, and first on the list is Zambrano being overly careful with Davis early in the count. It was fairly obvious that, especially with the sacks juiced, Davis was willing to make Carlos throw him two strikes before he offered at the ball - if you're unlikely to get a hit anyway, why not try to walk a run in? Z got the first one easy enough, but began trying to get Davis to swing at borderline pitches before he hung that second strike on him.

      The result was that, when he did have him down to his last strike, he also had two balls on him, meaning that he had to come a lot closer to the plate than he might otherwise care to in order to avoid walking in the run. Had he gotten Davis down 0-2 - easy enough to do when the man has his bat glued to his shoulder - he could have toyed with him until he struck out. As it was, he had to make a little better pitch.

      That's when the other thing goes wrong, and it's less about a bad play than an illustration of the dangers that certain situations present. Because it was a pitcher at the plate - an extra weak hitting pitcher, at that - Derrek Lee needed to play in at first.

      This isn't so much because Davis might bunt - that could easily result in a double play if executed poorly enough - but because if he does make swinging contact, there's a very good chance that it could only be hit as hard as a bunt, and if Lee were playing back, could result in a run scoring on a putout, or even an infield hit.

      What happened instead was that Davis got a ball on the outside corner - which, as I've mentioned, wouldn't have had to be such a good pitch if the count weren't 2-2 - and was able to somehow shoot it up the first base line. Since Lee was in, he couldn't react fast enough to it, and the ball went for a double and set the stage for the rest of the inning.

      Ironically, I'm pretty sure from watching the replays that if Lee were playing a normal first base, that he not only would have gotten the ball, but would have been able to start a fairly easy 3-6-3 double play, thus getting the Cubs out of the inning with only one run tallied against them. Little tiny things can make big differences in ballgames, and last night these little things bit the Cubs in the ass.

  • The good thing about the night was the work by Rich Hill - a young man about whom I said in the comments just yesterday, should unequivocally be spending more time in the minors.

    Well, he looked a lot less like a minor leaguer last night while he was throwing 4.1 innings of scoreless, no hit, six strikeout ball. I still don't think he's ready - his fastball isn't a great pitch, and he needs to be able to spot it more consistently to set up that wicked yakker he's got - but I can certainly see what makes him interesting. When he eventually gets sent back down, as I believe he will, I'll be keeping a close eye on him.

  • It seems that Corey Patterson has decided he should be a leadoff hitter, and the Cubs are pleased as punch to accommodate him. I see two ways of looking at this:

    1. Dear God, now we're giving His Hackselency an extra plate appearance every few games. Somebody please shoot me.

    2. Well, what do you know, Corey can change.

    I'm probably somewhere in the middle of the continuum. Asking to lead off doesn't necessarily signal the change in approach that Patterson so desperately needs to adopt, but it does show a willingness to adapt his attitude - albeit, after literally months of thought - in order to attempt to meet the needs of the team. For a man who has shown a remarkable stubborn streak in his early career, this is an encouraging step in the right direction.

    Still, that's only half the battle. Now that attitude change has to extend beyond his mere place in the batting order, and become something that he applies to what he does at the dish - being more selective at the plate, swinging less from the heels in two strike counts - these are the sort of things he needs to do in order to be more than a pleasant volunteer at the top of the order, and while I have serious doubts about whether he's truly willing to make those adjustments, the fact of his enlistment as a table-setter is the best indication yet that he might be.

The Cubs have to go through Ben Sheets to win the series this afternoon, but if there's good news to be found in that statement it comes from the fact that as soon as Sheets began dominating the rest of the league, the Cubs seemed to get his number.

Last season over five starts, Sheets went 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA against the Cubs - by far his worst performance against any team in 2004. A little of that with some good work from Glendon Rusch, and the Cubs can put this series in their pocket.

2005-06-23 09:06:39
1.   Eric S
Critical junction, Part 1.A - Walking Miller at all.

I didn't see Z pitch (stuck with gamecast) - but he's seemed like he was missing the strike zone high, which is unusual for him. Wonder if his sore toenail is hurting him during his delivery more than he's letting on?

2005-06-23 11:03:28
2.   Doug
I usually have Gamecast up while I listen to GameDay Audio of Pat and Ron. I can say without a doubt that one of them is completely wrong about pitch locations the vast majority of the time. As much as I like to poke fun at those two, I think I'd side with them on the location of pitches.

In other words, pitch locations in Gamecast should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

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