Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
by Derek Smart
Is everyone having fun? I sure am. As difficult as this last victory was, I'm actually thrilled to see the club show, once again, that it doesn't have to completely own a game to win it. As enjoyable as it is to have stretches like the four games previous where domination is the fashion of the day, you won't win all your games that way. Sometimes, you're going to have to fight like hell, make some mistakes, then get back in there and fix 'em to come out on top.
This is what the Cubs did last night. They had a good thing going, tried desperately to make a mess of it, then got their heads screwed on straight and finished the job. If there's one word that describes this team right now, it's the one at the top of the page, and there's nothing more entertaining for a fan than to root for a good team that plays like they were manufactured by Cyberdyne Systems.
Rich Hill had a very solid outing that began as a negative image of his previous start. Last time out, he missed consistently with his fastball, only getting by because he could spot his curve and Pirate batters are generous with the swinging and the hacking and the outmaking. Yesterday, he was able to control his heat very well, but for the first 3.1 innings, he couldn't get his bender over the plate if he drilled a hole in the ball and plotted it's course with a string.
Then, after walking Matt Holliday and giving up a single to Garrett Atkins, he suddenly found Mr. Yakker hidden somewhere under the resin bag and began making folks look silly. That's when the bottom of the sixth came around, where he gave up a leadoff bomb to Clint Barmes, and summarily walked Todd Helton, managing to lose Mr. Yakker yet again in the process. I'd suggest purchasing a leash.
This is where things get a little odd. Lou goes to the bullpen, and despite the fact that Hill had renewed issues with his curve, he wasn't missing so badly as to make one think they were irremediable. Clearly, there's a confidence gap at this point - note the difference in treatment between Hill and Lilly, when I think you could argue that Hill was having the better outing up to the point of crisis. Plus, I don't think starting to play matchups in the sixth is an ideal strategy unless you've got a guy going nuclear on the bump, which Hill clearly was not.
In the end it worked out alright, and I don't think this particular instance was a huge deal on its own, but it's a trend that bears watching, at least when it comes to the treatment of Hill.
Speaking of things I don't understand, pinch-running Felix Pie for Derrek Lee in the top of the ninth was an extraordinarily strange move. Now, I get that Pie's faster, and that he has a better chance to score on a ball in the gap, but even though he's not the same base-stealer he once was, Lee still runs very well, and I think, especially in that park with its massive outfield, the number of extra base hits that Pie could score on that Lee couldn't is small enough to make any advantage gained insignificant. The only thing you get in that transaction is the ability to swipe a bag and the tie the game on a single, but since there were four pitches in the Ramirez at bat and Pie didn't look like he was even considering running on any of them, that theory goes out the door.
I've said before that I love the way Lou is willing to pull out all the stops to get in position to win, but this seemed to take that ethic too far. Swapping out your best hitter for a fringe gain at best, in a game that you are clearly trying to play into an extra inning contest, doesn't make a ton of sense.
I don't think I've said much about Geovany Soto, so let me take a moment to speak up and proclaim my deep and abiding man-love for this kid. I've been wondering for years what it would be like to have a catcher who could not only hit the ball, but play the game behind the plate as well. Right now, he's looking like the total package, and while I wouldn't expect him to continue to be quite so productive as he's been, I'm imagining that regression to the mean is his case is only half a step rearward.
Here's another thing: every time I see his face on camera, I'm reminded of Mike Piazza. Sure, he's a bit chunkier, but there's something about the facial hair and general arrangement of his features that echoes Piazza in his youth. Now he's hitting like him - .353/.451/.618 as of last night - while still managing to have, you know, an arm. I'll take that any day of the week and twice on Sunday, thanks.
The trick going forward is going to be keeping him fresh, because folks in Los Angeles have seen what happens when you let a backstop work too much in the early going, and the Cubs can't afford to have Soto huffing and puffing his way down the stretch.
As a side note: the talk during the broadcast of Soto hitting for the cycle was hilarious. Even in Colorado, I can't envision a scenario where Soto hits a triple that doesn't involve an unconscious outfielder. He's just that slow.
This afternoon brings a shot at another mini-sweep, and the opportunity to match last year's high for consecutive wins, but I don't much care for the match-up. Aaron Cook is exactly the type of pitcher who historically gives the Cubs fits - hard sinker, pounds the zone - and I suspect Jason Marquis will have to be his pre-June best to keep up. Stranger things have happened, though, and at the very least I feel confident that, even if they lose, this Cub team won't go down without a fight.