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by Derek Smart
The Cubs scored 8 runs, snapping their 8 game losing streak in Carlos Zambrano's 8th start of the season. I think it's fitting that the end of this string of horror coincided with Z ditching his victory goose egg, and while it doesn't give me fresh hope for any long-term positives, it at least takes some of the stink off the last couple of weeks.
Early on, I was afraid it would be a contest like the ones the Cubs seem to have with the Reds, where the two teams just beat each other bloody until someone goes down in a heap of hits and bullpen attrition. Zambrano had big problems finding the strike zone, and it looked for sure like it was going to eventually catch up to him.
Yet, after walking five through four innings, Z didn't give up another free pass, and only allowed two singles in his remaining four frames. It also took him only 43 pitches to get through those last four innings, versus the 67 he tossed in the first four.
Even so, I think the key for Carlos was the second inning, where he had men on second and third with nobody out yet managed to escape unharmed, partly because he threw well, partly because he was lucky enough to have Matt Cain around to make the first out, and partly because John Mabry and Henry Blanco combined for an excellent play at the plate for the second out.
From then on, although there was another threat in the fourth, Carlos was a different pitcher, simply looking more confident that he could make it though the outing. Hopefully, he realizes that it's these nights - the ones where you have to work like hell just to get by, and adjust to what's working for you at the moment - that make a Cy Young pitcher, not the 20% where you've got your A-game.
Interesting that Dusty decided to "demote" Pierre to the two-hole last night, although I'd argue that simply swapping spots between the guys who were one and two has as much significance as changing the leg on which your swine wears its pearl bracelet. Still, it "worked" - or rather, the results changed, whatever the cause - so I'm guessing you'll be seeing the same configuration until Pierre starts to hit more consistently.
Which brings us to the undeniable positive that Pierre did, in fact, hit the ball hard on two occasions last night, both of which resulted in hits. There's no discounting the one that bounced off Matt Cain's leg, either, because that was clearly ticketed for center field if his ankle hadn't intervened. Those are the type of swings the Cubs paid dearly in talent and treasure for, and those are the kind of swings that Pierre must have if he has any hope of being effective.
Speaking of Pierre, I understand that the Giants' fans were disappointed Tuesday night when Mr. Bonds' historic potential dinger was brought back into the park by the Cubs' center fielder, and there's a part of me that's even willing to cut them a bit of slack for booing that night when Pierre next came to the plate, but booing him the following game too? That's just silly.
The man made a nice play on a hard hit ball that would have cleared the fence without his intervention, but just because it would have left the yard doesn't mean that it was entitled to leave the yard. I won't go so far as to call the booing classless (I'm still hoping it was at least a little tongue-in-cheek), but I would hope that if Cub fans were in a similar situation that they would register their disappointment in a different manner.
They were talking on the broadcast last night about guys on the team who maybe work a little too hard on things, and Matt Murton's name came up. I think "work" was an unfortunate choice of words, and I believe what Gene Clines (from whom this information came) meant was that Murton is a guy who will "think" a little too hard. I'll explain.
I have some personal experience in this realm, not from the strictly baseball sense, but from the angle of "performance." When I was acting, one of my biggest issues was that I would "think" too much, meaning that rather than getting to a point where the work was done and I could let the performance happen organically, I would be constantly tinkering in the moment, listening to myself, judging the quality of line readings as they were coming out, instead of simply doing and letting it go. I was, to use a sports term, getting in my own way.
I think there's a similar thing going on with Murton at the moment, who seems to be working so hard to get his approach and swing "right" that he's not able to settle in, get comfortable, and simply react to the ball. His brain's getting in the way of his body, and as such, the quality of his work, particularly in the area of power production, has gone down.
Murton's got good skills, and his approach has usually been very good, so I have every confidence that if he'll simply get out of the way and let things come to him, he'll be much better off. Of course, I can tell you from experience, that's much easier said than done.
The Cubs could actually win a series this afternoon, which would be quite the switcheroo. All they need is for Sean Marshall to continue to be solid, and to somehow break the spell of Jamey Wright, who I found out, thanks to Dave Pinto's fabulous pitching comparison tool, has the fifth best ERA against the Cubs for pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings against them since 1996 (3.35 is his figure, and if you click on the link, you'll see some really interesting names). It would be a small step - a very small step - but it would, at least, be in the right direction.