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Notes From Under The Bag
by Derek Smart
Up until the top of the eighth yesterday I was all set to write about my profound sense of embarrassment, both at the team's conduct, and the results on the field. That I was saved from my own all-out rant by some late-inning heroics is actually a relief. This is still a bad team, but at least on Sunday they salvaged a small percentage of what they'd already lost on the weekend.
None of this weekend's pitching performances were in the least bit surprising. Maddux, great as he's been this year, is still prone to having the occasional disaster outing, Rich Hill knows nothing but disaster in the Majors (hence, his demotion), and Carlos has been great to solid all month long.
Despite the four runs he gave up, Zambrano was dominant, striking out nine in seven innings while giving up only four hits. Of course, the hits were all big ones - three solo homers, and an RBI double - but the fact that Z only walked three (low for him these days) and gave up no other baserunners meant that each of those big blows was only worth a single run.
In fact, those hits looked to be the only mistakes he made on the day, so that they each turned into runs was a bit of bad luck. That the luck was returned in its more beneficent form in the top of the eighth only served to even out the breaks.
I am required by the Blogging Code of Conduct to comment on this Saturday's violence, so here we go:
The operative emotion for me was disappointment. I like Michael Barrett - he has an energetic quality combined with a degree of flakiness and vulnerability that I've always been able to identify with - so seeing him sucker punch a guy, even a guy who seems to be widely acknowledged as a first-class...um...irritant, saddened me. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior, even if provoked, and I think anyone finding genuine provocation in the preceding play or its aftermath is looking to rationalize a highly irrational act.
That said, I was heartened by Barrett's post-game comments, and his comments before and after Sunday's game, as he appeared genuinely remorseful and embarrassed - two extremely appropriate sentiments. It reinforces my belief that he's a good guy who had a very bad moment, and if he does the right thing by accepting whatever punishment is meted out by the league without appeal, my opinion will be all the more justified.
On a related note, if the Cubs manage to reel off a few wins and look good doing it, and in particular, if they somehow manage to work their way over the next couple of months to the positive end of the contender/pretender continuum (at which point, I will gladly eat my hat on a bed of mesclun and spiced walnuts), there will likely be a lot of talk about how Barrett's fit of pugilistic pique was a catalyzing agent for their sizzling streak. This will be, in a word, a load (I leave you to creatively decide for yourself just what the load is composed of).
I'm not saying that it's impossible for teams to find a missing spark from emotional moments like the one instigated by Barrett, but I think a bigger boost was derived from the free out given Sunday by Paul Konerko's odd lack of extension on Juan Uribe's errant but catchable throw, and the resulting big hits against an off-his-game Neal Cotts, than from any carry-over from a fight.
The issue of late hasn't been a lack of gumption so much as an inability to create opportunities, or to cash in on the few that have arisen, and I could imagine that finally doing so might help the club to relax a bit and perhaps play more like the .450 team they are at the moment.
Add in the Cubs' opportunity to gain confidence and solidify their momentum over the next couple of days against one of the few teams in either league demonstrably worst than they are, and any hot-streak's family tree pointing to a Saturday afternoon right-cross as its progenitor smacks of lazy, post hoc reasoning.
There is a price to be paid for yesterday's victory, and it is this: if the organization in general, or Dusty Baker in particular, were actually experiencing a moment of sanity and considering finding a platoon partner for Jacque Jones, you'd have to guess that his hitting the game winning homer off a lefty, even one who doesn't seem to have a particular statistical advantage over his like-handed brethren, would give Jones at least 30 or 40 more craptacular at bats (he's had 21 thus far) without fear of reprisal. It's sad, because it's true.
Off to Florida tonight, and a decent chance to win the second of their last three series. It's not often a team on the rocks gets to play two worse-off clubs within a week, so here's hoping the Cubs can take advantage.