Monday, October 08, 2007

Cubs go down without a fight

Here's the entire list of things the Cubs did well in the playoff series with Arizona:

Show up on time for the game.
Bat in the correct order.

That's pretty much it. It was pretty embarrassing. No hitting. Little pitching, and when a pitcher was going well, Piniella got him out as quick as he could.

At least Zambrano was rested for game four.

Better luck next year. Again.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pinella botches handing the pitchers

Maybe the desert heat got to Cubs manager Lou Piniella. I don't know. I can't think of any other explanation for how badly he has mismanaged his pitchers in the first two games of this series.

In game one, his ace, Carlos Zambrano is going strong after six innings and 85 pitches and Piniella pulled him. Why? He wanted to save him for game four.

What game four? There is no game four. Not yet, anyway, and there may never be one.

This is the playoffs. You never leave anything behind for a future that is not promised to you. But that's just what Piniella did.

Before you accuse me of second-guessing, I was yelling at my television when he came out. I didn't even like the bullpen being busy. One of my pet peeves in baseball is when a manager takes out a pitcher, especially a starter, who is doing perfectly well and who is strong, for a guy, who may or may not have his best stuff that day, just because he fills some role.

Piniella's reason for taking Zambrano out was actually dumber, and it backfired. He went with Carlos Marmol, not knowing if he'd be any good or not. Sure, he had reason to have some faith. Marmol had been about as good as anybody over the last month and a half of the season, but he was a kid playing in his first playoff game, and he gagged.

By the time he had any idea where he was throwing the ball, he'd given up two runs and the Cubs were done.

In game two, Piniella had the opposite problem. He stuck with his starter too long after it was clear he had nothing.

Ted Lilly struggled badly with his control in the first inning, walking two guys. He also struck out two (both on 3-2 counts), so he managed to escape with no damage.

The second inning, after Geovany Soto had given him the lead, was a disaster. The first two guys reached on a single and a walk. After a strikeout of Ojeda and a sacrifice by Davis, he faced Chris Young. Young is the biggest power threat on the team and first base was open, but they pitched to him anyway. When the count got to 3-2, the only thing that could go wrong would be if Lilly grooved one. Throw the ball anywhere out of the strike zone - it doesn't matter. Needless to say, Lilly grooved one and it was 3-2, Arizona.

Now, Piniella knows that Lilly has so little control that he can't miss the strike zone when he needs to. Now is the time to get the bullpen up, specifically Kerry Wood and Jason Marquis, a starter who is working out of the bullpen in this series. Now is the time to send the catcher out to stall. Send the pitching coach out to stall. Give Woody time to warm up.

The reason you get those two guys up is because Wood has playoff experience and is a strikeout pitcher, so he gives you the best chance to kill a rally. Then you bring in Marquis, who, if he's effective, can give you five or six innings because he's used to starting. If he's not, you're no worse off than if you left Lilly in because you know he's not effective.

When Lilly then gives up the single to Drew, you bring in Woody with the plan to go to Marquis the next inning of if Wood tanks.

But, NOOOOO! Piniella left Lilly in to give up a triple to make it 4-2. He got out of the inning because Connor Jackson was swinging 3-0 and grounded out.

The reason you don't worry about going to your bullpen in the second inning is because you have a day off the next day. Also, it's the playoffs. You can't afford to let your starter give up seven runs in an effort to right himself like you can in the regular season.

Lilly pitched the third and got away with it because the D-Backs brain-cramped and went up hacking. A first pitch single, a double play ball and a 1-0 popup to the catcher apparently fooled Piniella into thinking Lilly was OK. He even let Lilly bat with a man on and two outs in the top of the fourth.

But, Lilly was not OK. With one on and one out (on a failed sacrifice attempt), Lilly finally managed to walk Young, except this time he wasn't trying to walk him. Stephen Drew then tripled to drive home two more to make it 6-2.

Finally, Piniella got the message and Lilly got the hook. It was two innings too late, and the Cubs are now in a two-game hole. At least Zambrano should be nice and rested for game four. Or the season opener - whichever comes first.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is this finally the year?

Now that the schedule is out and the Cubs are still on it, I feel like I can celebrate. The Cubs are in the playoffs!

Actually, when they clinched, it was more relief than excitement. How could a team with this much talent NOT win the worst division in baseball, but leave it to the Cubs to give it a great try.

Could be worse. Could be the Mets.

(pause for uproarious laughter)

Anyways, we (meaning the Cubs) have been here before. The Cubs won the division in 1984, 89 and 2003, as well as winning the wild card in 1998. All they have to show for it is one series win (the 2003 NLDS).

In 84 and 03, all the Cubs had to do was win once with three to play and blew it. Each time, something stupid happened. In 84, commissioner Peter Ueberroth took home field advantage away from the Cubs and gave it to the Padres because the Cubs couldn't play home games at night. He made some excuse about television requirements. The Cubs won the first two at home, but lost all three in SD to lose the series.

In 2003, there was the Moises Alou meltdown because he felt a fan interfered with his attempt to catch a foul ball in the stands.

I digress to report that as I write this, I'm listening to David Aldridge on TBS report about the whining that goes on in Philadelphia because the town hasn't won a major sports championship in 24 years. He's talking about all the pressure the players feel to fix that. Let me speak for Cub fans everywhere when I say, "BOO &$^@@*' HOO!"

Back to 2007. The time has come for the Cubs to make some noise. After all, the White Sox and Red Sox have ended their long championship droughts recently. Now, it's the Cubs' turn.

The Cubs have as good a chance as anybody in the NL playoffs to make the World Series because nobody is invincible. The most important thing for the Cubs will be for Carlos Zambrano to pitch well. When he does, he's unhittable, but when he's off, the Cubs are down 7-0 before they know it. In the series with Arizona, the Cubs have an advantage with their offense. Arizona is the only team in the playoffs without a .300 hitter, so they get by on pitching and defense.

One interesting strategy difference is that the Cubs will go with only three starters, opting to work Jason Marquis out of the bullpen. Arizona will use four starters, beginning with Cy Young candidate Brandon Webb. If the series goes five, he'll pitch that last game.

My pick is the Cubs in four. In fact, if it goes five, the Cubs are in trouble.

In the other series, I'm picking Philly in four. I think Colorado will have run out of gas just getting here.

In the AL, I'm rooting the Angels and Indians because I'm sick of the Yankees and Red Sox. You would think those were the only two teams in baseball.

I suppose if I have to pick objectively, I'd take Cleveland in four and Boston in three.