Just when you think...
Well, just when you think that the "hope" light is blinking like the "fasten seat belt" sign does on an airplane...
When you're thinking that the Cubs could have moved to within 4.5 games of the wild-card lead and been positioned for a necessary sweep of their series in Denver...
that's when they come out with another stinker.
The Cubs lost to the Rockies 4-2 last night, and this loss was pretty much the poster child for everything that's gone wrong all season with this ballclub.
Bad at-bats? Oh, there were plenty of them, and I'll get to the worst one in a while, but the pitch count from Rockies starter Aaron Cook ought to be the first clue -- he threw only 81 pitches in seven innings.
Eighty-one pitches? In Coors Field? Most starting pitchers get there in four innings in the mile-high air in Denver.
I should give Cook props here, though. He did have a tremendous sinker working, and most pitchers can't get their breaking balls to break the way Cook did last night. What the Cubs needed to do was lay off the sinker and let Cook start walking them, but then again, this is the Cubs we're talking about.
Here's Dusty Baker's take on this game:
I'm not sure where the second run comes in -- poor defense did, in fact, cost the Cubs a run in the first inning, when Todd Walker booted what would have been an inning-ending grounder, allowing that inning's second run to score. But three singles had resulted in a run before that misplay, and the other two Rockies runs scored on three more singles in the third inning, and then on the first run Kerry Wood has allowed as a relief pitcher, a Dustan Mohr homer in the eighth (longtime readers here will remember that I was an advocate of signing Mohr as a free-agent last off-season to play either LF or RF for the Cubs; Mohr has had a peculiar season, with a .502 SLG but only a .285 OBA, as he's got 14 HR but only 33 other hits and his BB/K ratio has gone from 46/64 in 2004, to 17/71 in 2005).
The Mohr home run is an example of the sort of thing that drives me absolutely nuts. After the Cubs spent the eighth inning clawing their way back into the game, closing a 3-0 gap to 3-2, Wood gave half of that back with the home run. What this does, often, to teams that do this, is as if they have inflated a happy balloon of hope, only to stick a pin in it right away. Mohr homered on a first-pitch fastball, and true, there is no shame in giving up homers in Coors Field -- lots of pitchers do -- but that was precisely the wrong time to have that happen.
Now, let's talk about the Cubs' offense, or lack of same.
The Cubs sent thirty-nine hitters to the plate last night. Of them, sixteen swung at the first pitch, and six of those made an out on that first-pitch swing.
This is clearly unacceptable, particularly on a night when you've got a sinkerball pitcher in a non-sinkerball park.
From Sportsline's game summary, here are the most egregious Cub at-bat sequences of the night:
Neifi Perez in the fourth inning, after Jeromy Burnitz and Michael Barrett had led off the frame with singles, putting two runners on with nobody out:
What, you can't take a couple more pitches before hacking at another sinker? In fact, though I'm not a great fan of the sacrifice bunt, this might have been a perfect situation to use it -- although a successful sacrifice would have led to Corey Patterson batting with a runner on third and less than two out. Usually, a major league hitter can figure out a way to bring such a runner home, but seriously, I have absolutely no faith in Patterson to do such things these days.
Even worse for Neifi was this at-bat in the eighth. Situation: one out, bases loaded, a run already in, cutting the deficit to 3-2:
First-pitch swing? Please. Then, of course, down 0-1, you know reliever Mike DeJean, who's NOT throwing sinkers, is going to come in with a fastball, which he did, and then, of course, Neifi has to protect the plate by hacking a couple of baseballs foul, and then he weakly popped out. Here's a situation where you have at least a decent baserunner -- Jose Macias (and take note: I can at least give Macias credit for that) -- on third, and one out; why not try a squeeze?
Well, Dusty didn't.
And then comes the worst at-bat of the game. The bases are still loaded, and Corey comes up, probably wanting to hit a ball halfway to Nebraska, and naturally, he smashes the ball right into the ground at second base.
It's a shame, really; there is no doubt in my mind that Corey Patterson really does have the "five tools" that all the scouts claimed that he had when he was drafted. But the one "tool" that is missing is a proper approach to the game, to the situation, to each at-bat. He shows it nearly every time he comes up to the plate. About all we can hope for is that he has a good enough last six weeks of the season, that someone might be willing to trade a prospect or two, or maybe a major-league middle reliever, for him. The Cubs simply cannot stake any more of their future success on him. He's not a "kid" any more -- he's 26 years old. By the time a player has 2000 major league at-bats, he shouldn't be doing this sort of thing any more.
I watched the last couple of innings hearing cacophonic noises from the computers both my kids were on -- Mark was playing a game of some kind, Rachel was listening to a music video, and both of those noises drowned out the sorrow that was coming from the TV. Glendon Rusch pitched well enough last night -- six innings, only two earned runs, and most times in Coors Field, that ought to be enough to win.
The last thing I have to say about this game -- what on Earth are those "alternate" uniforms the Rockies were wearing? They look like storm trooper shirts from a bad science fiction movie.
I'm still not ready to toss in the towel on this season -- 5.5 games is hardly insurmountable, even with six teams to climb over -- but it's clearly coughing up blood.
All the Cubs can do is come out and win this afternoon's game -- and maybe, just maybe, Patterson will be benched against lefty Jeff Francis -- and carry on from there.