Monday, March 31, 2008

Nothing Piniella could do about it...

What a heartbreaker.

Looking back at Opening Day 2008, it would be easy for fans to question how Piniella handled the pitching staff, especially towards the end of the game. But, there really wasn't much Lou could've done with the situation; he pushed all of the right buttons and unfortunately for us, the players just couldn't execute on the field.

I know people will call for Kerry Wood's head. I know people will want Carlos Marmol to be the closer, but the fact that Marmol was even in consideration for the closing job was outrageous. Marmol is nothing more than an unproven journeyman who had one career year last year. To hand him the reins of the closing duties for the defending NL Central Champions is a ridiculous thought. Personally, I would've preferred Howry (actually, everyone knows that I would've left Dempster right where he is), but Wood was an equally acceptable choice. Let's not jump down the their throats; they'll be incredibly valuable pieces of the puzzle down the road.

But, there were many other things that could've changed the outcome of today's game, and it's clear that the Cubs are either still trying to shake off of the rust from Spring Training or have picked up right where they left off in 2007 as far as athletic effort.

With Fukudome on 3rd base in the second inning, Felix Pie struck out on a Sheets breaking ball in the dirt to end the inning, but didn't get a quick start out of the box. Even after the late break, Pie barely jogged down the first base line only to have an errant Kendall throw pull the first baseman off of the bag. Fielder calmly stepped off the bag, received the throw, and kicked the cushion a full step ahead of Pie. Now, what if Pie was running at full speed right away? Does he beat the throw? Does Kendall throw it away? Who knows?

Geovany Soto also showed that he had a long way to go. With two men on and just one out, Soto stepped up the plate in the 7th inning to try to break what was then a scoreless tie. Kendall blocks a pitch in the dirt and the ball caroms off of Soto in the box. Meanwhile, Fukudome reads a wild pitch and starts to break for third, only to be trapped in no man's land when the ball lands in front of Kendall's feet. Now what's my point? Veteran ballplayers are usually good at motioning to the baserunners whether to stay or go on a pitch in the dirt, but Soto stood there motionless. Again, I'm not saying that Fukudome wouldn't have been picked off had Soto told him to stay put; in fact, Fukudome got such a great jump, he was probably forty feet off the bag by the time the ball hit Soto. But, the least Soto could do is inform his teammates as to the location of the baseball.

Also, in the tenth inning, Soto took a roundabout route to a Braun pop fly with two men out in the inning. Again, the play didn't seem to hurt us directly, as Braun was later fouled out to Fukudome (who, by the way, never gave up on the ball because he knew which way the wind was blowing), but Soto again showed that he definitely could use some improvement on the more subtle aspects of the game. Everyone in the ballpark (and most of us at home) knew that the ball was going to land down the third base line. Everyone but Soto.

After all, in the bottom half of the same inning, veteran catcher Jason Kendall quickly accounted for the wind on a Soriano foul out and was positioned perfectly by the time the ball reached ground level again.

The team also needs to work on infield communication. On a play to begin the seventh inning, a pop up near the mound caused a collision between Lee and Zambrano, which eventually led the early exit of our pitcher. Granted, I'm not saying this changes the outcome of the game either. Had Zambrano tossed eight scoreless innings, I still turn the ball over to Wood in the ninth and Howry in the tenth. But what is clear is that something went wrong. We certainly don't want our all-star first baseman clipping our ace pitcher every time a pop fly is hit on the infield.

So maybe Piniella can be blamed for the out-of-game ways he handled his team. Certainly, it's his responsibility to make sure that the players have all these things sorted out before they break camp. (Or at the very least, his responsibility to make sure someone else gets it sorted out.) But, Piniella made all of the right in-game decisions.

Now only if we could've gotten Fukudome up to the plate in the tenth...


Kevin said...

Hi there, nice post. I want to comment on a couple things you wrote, but first, I wanted to say sorry for all the excessive phone calls... I was so caught up in the moment and was calling every single person I knew throughout the day. When Fukudome hit the home run, I just threw the phone up in the air, you probably just heard people screaming, i wasn't really talking at all, haha...

Anyway, here's what I thought about the things you wrote:

--Yeah, Cubs fans are idiots. They were screaming about Kerry Wood and how he was such a great pitcher ten years ago and now he's crappy. That pissed me off because as you've mentioned, things just didn't go our way today. It's not really Kerry's fault or Lou's fault for that matter. It was also a very long day. The game started around 1:50/2:00 and there was a delay for an hour in the third inning. The game didn't end until about close to 6:00 so the players were probably exhausted (I know I was).

--Continuing with stupid fans... they were worshiping all over that Fukudome when he got the first two hits but when he made that base running error, fans around me were screaming that he was a moron. They yelled things like, "IDIOT! You don't belong on this team! That's a boneheaded mistake, you're a professional!" I turned around and told the idiots that Fukudome was the only player that had any hits for our team at the time and that they should just shut up (they were getting on my nerves... most of the people in my section were doing that today). Anyway, the fans all of a sudden were up and jumping for joy when Fukudome hit the 3-Run Homer. I didn't hear them saying anything about how he didn't belong on the team at that point in time. Freaking morons.

--In Pie's defense (on the lack of hustle), Fukudome was on 3rd but wasn't even running home. He was just dancing around the bag on third base so he wouldn't have scored a run even if Pie was safe. I know it seems like it would've driven in a run on tv, but you I get the feeling they didn't show where Fukudome was standing on 3B.

--I agree with you on the Soto needs to come a long way stuff. He didn't impress me on that wild pitch (where Fukudome got thrown out) and he REALLY didn't impress when he dropped that Braun fly ball in foul territory.

--Being at the game reminded me so much of watching last years' team in person. The starter pitches a gem but the offense can't get going. Nearly everyone goes 0-4. The opponent scores late in the game and we produce what I like to call "the fake rally" (although it wasn't fake as it tied the game up today which actually surprised me). And then after a relentless comeback, we come up short. Watch-- tomorrow we'll score ten runs and then Thursday, we'll score one.

--The only thing I might question Lou on is when Pie was on base in the ninth and he didn't have him try and steal second. Obviously, Fontenot didn't do anything so it wouldn't have mattered, but I want to see us be a little more aggressive with the base running--- ESPECIALLY when it's against JASON FREAKING KENDALL who we all know can not throw a base runner out to save his life! Again, I'm not going to hold this against Lou unless this becomes a trend.

--I think that the weather played a major factor in this game too. That is not an excuse seeing as we should use that to our advantage. I thought it was funny that Fukudome did the best of everyone and he's never even played in Wrigley!! But yeah, the wind was blowing all over the place and it was very slippery.

--Overall, I think this is just one game and I am not worried about this team at all. Sure, I may be saying different if Milwaukee wins the division by one game, but for now, I do believe there are 161 more games to go. There's a lot of baseball ahead of us and if there's one thing that's impressed me was Zambrano. I also think it was pretty cool that we were kind of clutch today with Fukudome's homerun. Obviously, we didn't come up clutch where it mattered (we didn't win), but the Cubs I've come to know and love would give up three runs in the ninth and then go down one, two, three (or sometimes give us the fake-rally). Basically, I was being all pessimistic when DLee got on, then Ramirez, and then was like, "HOLY COW!!!!" when Fukudome hit that shot. Unbelievable!

---I'm curious on your thoughts on Theriot? I generally like the guy but I wasn't very impressed today. The fans were not very happy either, but screw the fans. I kind of think Theriot should not bat in leadoff because I think it kind of throws off the chemistry of the team (Soriano did terrible today as well in the two hole). Oh yeah, and I forgot how much it drives me nuts when Soriano comes to bat. Swinging strike one, swinging strike two. Called strike three. Idiot.

Anyway, that's what's good in Wrigleyville today. We should catch a game this summer if you're around. I got my ticket for only $10 and I didn't really even miss anything. It's pretty easy, I'll have to show you how to work the ticket scalpers, haha. Take care, -Kev

Eddie said...

Six things wrong with your post.

1. You call the fans stupid for judging Wood and Howry based on one game, but now you're bashing Theriot and Soriano? Seems a bit contradictory to me.

We faced Ben Sheets yesterday. One of the league's best pitchers. Never mind the absurd notion that we need a lineup change after one game, but going 0-for-5 against Benny isn't really all that uncommon.

2. How is it not Wood's fault? He stood on the mound and gave up three earned runs! I said we shouldn't put his head on the chopping block or strip him of his closer-ship (is that a word?), but he certainly shoulders a large portion of the blame for Monday's loss.

And he wasn't exhausted. I promise that the first eight innings drained you a lot more than it did for Kerry.

3. As far as Fukudome on the bases is concerned, dancing around third is EXACTLY what he should've done; he's not going to beat two throws home and so he needs to wait for an errant throw. If you're thinking only in terms of Pie being safe or out at first, then you haven't even begun to scratch the surface of understanding baseball!

The point is, speed creates mistakes (we saw that when Pie reached in the 9th). Hustle, and force Kendall to make a hurried throw. Again, I'm not saying he necessarily would've thrown the ball away, but the chances are certainly heightened.

3b. (Let's just pretend your scenario is true: one person not hustling doesn't give another the right to slack off.)

4. Pie doesn't drive in a run if Fukudome scores on a wild pitch or a bad throw. In fact, no one is credited with an RBI.

5. I, too, would've liked to have seen Pie run in the ninth. But, you claim Fontenot did nothing. Wrong! He hit a ground ball to the right side. If Pie was running, that's a clean single into right field. Granted, I'm not saying that would've happened had Pie actually taken off, but to say Fontenot did nothing is horribly inaccurate.

If you think the only reason for running is to actually steal a base, I am forced to repeat: you've got a long way to go in understanding the game.

6. Soto didn't DROP Braun's foul pop. He never got to it. If he had muffed the fly, it would go as an error on the catcher. As it stood, it was only a foul ball.

Kevin said...

you're right on all those points, no need for me to overreact only two games into the season. I'll just wait to make any comments until mid-May and we've seen this team play a little more.