Letdown: Cubs 0, Pirates 3

I nearly fell asleep in the bleachers today and it wasn't because I was tired, as I usually am due to my work hours -- I've had the last two days off and have had plenty of sleep.

No, today I was yawning because the Cubs looked completely out of sorts, stymied by a guy they apparently knew nothing about:

The Cubs didn't have much of a scouting report against [Jeff] Karstens (1-0), whom the Pirates acquired from the New York Yankees in the Xavier Nady deal. Friday was his first big league appearance this year, and he gave up five hits, walked four and struck out two over six innings.

Well, c'mon now. It's not as if Karstens just magically appeared out of nowhere -- someone had to be scouting him, right? In any case, the Pirates, having turned over one-sixth of their roster in the last week due to the trades of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, put what was basically a Triple-A team (plus the only real major leaguer, Nate McLouth) on the field at Wrigley today and thus I'm only half-joking when I say the Nashville Sounds, um, the Pirates shut out the Cubs 3-0, the Cubs' fifth shutout of the season -- and of the previous four, two of them were by other teams with losing records (April 27 at Washington and May 7 at Cincinnati).

Jason Marquis threw just fine, thank you. It was a "quality start" (three ER in six IP), though I'm not sure "quality" describes a 4.50 ERA; that's pretty much Marquis' career average. He gave up a HR to Jason Michaels and a couple of RBI singles, to Michaels and Jack Wilson, two sort of marginally better than the rest of the minor league lineup on the field today, and that was it. He walked only one. The bullpen put up three one-hit innings with six strikeouts, and Carlos Marmol looked like the "old" Marmol, snapping off sliders and striking out the side in his one inning of work.

The Cubs just couldn't get anything going, even with men on base all day -- five hits and seven walks. They hit into four double plays, including one by PH Reed Johnson with two on and one out in the eighth when it appeared the Cubs might be mounting a comeback against the Pirates' Sean Burnett, and another by Henry Blanco to end the game (Dave called that one, and I guess the rest of us could have, too).

Were the Cubs in for a letdown like this? Maybe, since the series in Milwaukee had featured one really intense game (Monday), and three blowouts -- you can't sustain that as a team forever, and perhaps the Cubs could be forgiven for looking past a pitcher like Karstens, who had had little major league success with the Yankees, toward two better pitchers (Paul Maholm and Ian Snell) going in the other two games of this series.

There's not much more to say about this day or this game. The Cubs lost and looked flat. By the seventh inning a fair amount of the bleacher crowd had already gone, heading either to Lollapalooza or perhaps the Bears' workout at Soldier Field (which, according to Jeff, had sold over 65,000 tickets, an amazing number for just watching the Bears have a workout). Thomas Ian Nicholas, the actor who played Henry Rowengartner in the 1993 movie "Rookie of the Year" (and later became more famous for his work in the "American Pie" films) thus sang "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" (and not very well, I might add) to a mostly-disinterested, about 1/4 empty house.

Advice to the Cubs: go home, have a nice quiet Friday night, forget about this one and get 'em tomorrow. Stuff like this happens. In the meantime -- go Braves! go Phillies!

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