Anyone who has been a Cubs fan as long as I have has seen some losses we'd rather forget. Last night's ugly 6-5 Cubs defeat at the hands of the Braves zoomed right up to the top of the list of horrible games that will stick in our minds for a long time. We can only hope that the players shake it off and come back and win tonight.
The bullpen meltdown ruined Randy Wells' fifth major league start -- at first, it appeared that Wells, like Kerry Wood 11 years ago in his fifth ML start, might put his name in the record books. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Chipper Jones slapped a no-doubt-about it single to left with two out; Garret Anderson ruined Wells' bid for a shutout with a home run leading off the 8th, but those were the only two hits Wells allowed. When Derrek Lee made his first error of the season dropping a subsequent throw from Ryan Theriot, Wells was lifted for Carlos Marmol. Marmol's been off and on this year, and last night was definitely "off". Marmol's control was poor -- only 11 strikes in 23 pitches, and Wells was charged with a second run, unearned, when Marmol issued a bases-loaded walk, which made the score 5-2. A sac fly made it 5-3, still a very winnable game. But then Kevin Gregg came in and allowed Jeff Francoeur -- who Braves fans have nearly given up on -- to hit a game-tying, two-run homer. The Cubs had their chances in extra innings, especially in the 10th when Kosuke Fukudome doubled with two out, but the bullpen kept putting too many on base and finally, Chipper Jones sent Braves fans home happy with a game-winning single in the 12th.
Before some final analysis of this giveaway, since I am by nature a positive person, let's look at some of the good things about this game. Wells threw 83 pitches and had 58 strikes. Now think about that for a minute. In recent years some Cubs pitchers haven't gotten out of the fifth inning without throwing that many pitches. He walked no one and before Jones' single, the only baserunner had been Yunel Escobar, who was hit by a Wells pitch and then erased on a double play. I was especially pleased to see Derrek Lee put up two extra-base hits, a smash double down the line driving in one run, and his sixth homer of the season in the top of the eighth. Alfonso Soriano, who almost always gets started off by opposing pitchers with a fastball, took a 68-MPH curveball from Kenshin Kawakami for strike one, but fought Kawakami off and wound up with a leadoff home run, the 54th of his career, which put him past Craig Biggio into second place behind the all-time leader, Rickey Henderson, who hit 81 of them. It was also Soriano's first HR in 12 games; maybe this is the start of one of his hot streaks.
OK, done with the good stuff -- and beyond losing the game, the Cubs may have again lost Milton Bradley to injury. He has a right calf strain after trying to beat out an infield hit and is officially "day-to-day", though that was his status after the April injury in Milwaukee, and he wound up out for more than two weeks. To which I'm going to say tonight: I TOLD YOU SO. Forget about Bradley's outbursts -- the thing I was most worried about in this signing was his constant time out of the lineup. Who knows how bad this injury is going to be, and fortunately Reed Johnson is hot right now and so he'll play CF while Kosuke Fukudome (who was 1-for-3 against his former Chunichi Dragons teammate Kawakami) shifts over to RF. At this rate, Bradley won't make the incentives this season that would guarantee the contract for its third year, so the Cubs' future financial exposure will be trimmed.
Some of you thought the Cubs should have signed Raul Ibanez. No one could have predicted how well he'd do so far this year, but that'd be better than the half-time play of Bradley. And even Adam Dunn would have been better -- bad as he might have been in right field, at least he has been on the field for all of Washington's games this year and has played 152 or more games five straight years and six of the last seven. At this rate we'll be lucky if Bradley plays 152 games combined between this year and next. (Not to mention that Dunn is 3rd in the NL in HR, 4th in RBI, 3rd in walks, and 9th in SLG and OPS.) Dunn would have made Joey Gathright useful, as Gathright could have played defensive replacement virtually every day for the last couple of innings.
There's enough blame to go around for last night. Some may blame Lou, but he's only using the players Jim Hendry got him. Come to think of it, that might be Lou's fault, since a lot of the changes were apparently made at his behest. The bullpen, in particular, was "fixed" badly. It's not too late to fix some of the fixes, either. Like the players, we as fans need to shake it off; there's another game tonight -- and the Cubs remain only four games out of first place (and if you're keeping track this early, four games out of the wild card, too).
Final note: I received multiple email complaints about behavior in the game threads last night. In the heat of discussing a tough game like last night's, I understand people can get frustrated and upset. Profanity and personal attacks will not be tolerated.