Monday, August 16, 2004

Bullpen blows it...

O.k. - I'll admit it. I was up late Saturday night and so as I was listening to the radio broadcast of Sunday's game (via headphones and a small transistor radio) I fell comfortably into a light sleep on the couch after the sixth inning - feeling quite satisfied that Mark Prior had the game well in hand. In light of Aramis Ramirez' absence, I was surprised to find the Cubs ahead by the score of 5-2. Wake me when we have registered a W thank you very much.

Except that isn't quite how it worked out. You see, I didn't count on the Dusty factor (i.e., utterly ignore how a player is *currently* playing and insert him in the game during key situations regardless of demonstrated control problems) combined with this miserable bullpen.

It's no wonder I didn't sleep very peacefully, because suddenly I awoke in the top of the eighth, and Kyle Farnsworth is being taken out with the bases loaded and only one away (Robin Ventura reached on four straight balls and Alex Cora was hit by a pitch!). Uh-oh.

Needless to say - all of the usual suspects made an appearance (Mike Remlinger is held guiltless in this particular instance), and a 5-3 lead suddenly turned into a 8-5 loss. The loss was sealed, incidentally, when Eric Gagne (a truly reliable reliever) came in and pitched two innings of hitless relief.

These are the absolute worst games to lose. They hit you right in the gut and are just plain demoralizing. When considered in light of the two previous series losses, this reminds one of the previous season low point after a Cardinals sweep at home in July.

Northside Report goat of the game...

goes to Kyle Farnsworth - a multiple award winner for this category. Farnsworth's consistent inability to throw strikes ultimately put the winning run (Alex Cora) on first in the eighth inning. You could probably make a case for giving a collective goat award to the entire bullpen for this debacle, but my heart tells me to give it to Tightpants. So sit back and enjoy a bud Tightpants - you made the list!

Ironically, had a poll a few weeks ago asking visitors who the most reliable Cubs reliever was. Inexplicably, Farnsworth was number #1 (followed by John Leicester). My only question is - who the heck is voting in these polls - player's relatives?

Cubs record versus N.L. playoff teams...

a troubling record should raise eyebrows for those who continue to envision postseason glory for the Cubs this year (and the possibility exists the Cubs may not even make the postseason no less). The Cubs record versus likely National League playoff teams (Atlanta, St. Louis, and Los Angeles) is a dismal 12-16. Even worse, the Cubs have lost every one of the series versus these teams (except Atlanta, in which case the Cubs hold a 2-1 series edge - but the Cubs can still blow this since there are 3 games to go). Additionally, if you throw in the teams competing for a wild card (San Diego, San Francisco, and Philadelphia) it doesn't get much better. The Cubs are 9-9 against these teams (with 6 games remaining against the Marlins) - not a record that inspires confidence.

This team just hasn't been playing like a team that is going to make any substantive noise in the postseason. The starting rotation certainly has the stuff to win a short series - but is anyone comfortable handing the last 2-3 innings to the bullpen against a team like St. Louis? Do the Cubs have enough offense to overcome the runs that the bullpen seems almost sure to give up against a monstrous St Louis attack? The way this ballclub is currently playing - I wouldn't bet on it.

The only option (in my opinion) that might inspire some hope for the Cubs during the postseason (and this assumes they make the postseason of course) is to 1) When the postseason begins - move to a four man rotation (moving Clement to the bullpen to assume either closer or set-up responsibilities), and 2) Dusty quits screwing around by managing based on reputations from the past and he begins management based on current player performance. That would entail moving Sosa down the line-up (and all the Sosa apologists can provide the same tired old refrains and excuses at this point) and grouping Garciaparra, Ramirez, Lee, and Barrett together in the lineup. Even then - the prospect of facing that St. Louis lineup in a 7 games series seems like a daunting task - especially if this bullpen doesn't show some signs of life against quality teams.