If you think the Cubs still have a chance in a weak NL Central -- and I'm among those, considering the Cubs are only two games behind the first-place Brewers, even as badly as they've played -- giving a game away every fifth day by starting a pitcher who can't give you more than four innings makes no sense whatsoever.
If you think this is a transition or rebuilding year, starting a pitcher who was not good at starting in the minor leagues and whose development as a situational lefthander might be stunted by starting him also makes no sense whatsoever.
Three starts by James Russell. 9.2 innings pitched. 18 hits, four walks, and six home runs allowed, and an 11.17 ERA. (That's a 2.275 WHIP, if you're keeping track.) This not only screws up your bullpen on the day that he starts -- because for the third time, the pen has had to go at least five innings -- but it messes it up for the next day, too. The scorecard looks like it would on a split-squad spring training day.
The headline isn't technically correct. It's not really Russell's fault -- he's not going out there trying to fail. It's Jim Hendry and Mike Quade's fault, because they should have understood, as it seems just about every other observer of the situation does, that someone who's actually qualified as a starter should have started these three games.
It seems as if three home runs is the limit for Quade; this is the second time Russell has now been yanked after the third dinger. Watch for those two claps Quade makes as he trudges up the mound to take his pitcher out. (It's not only Russell who appears to have that limit; Ryan Dempster also looks like he's on a three-homer limit, by which time his starts are almost irretrievably lost.)
The Cubs lost to the Rockies 4-3 Tuesday night, and for once, don't blame the bullpen. In fact, the pen is starting to look like a strength, while the rotation is in tatters -- that's exactly the reverse of what we thought when the season began. Last night, after Russell's failure, four relievers kept the Cubs in the game by throwing five shutout innings and giving up only four hits (and no walks) and striking out four. Props to Justin Berg, Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and John Grabow for a job well done.
But the Cubs offense, for the second straight night, took a first-inning lead and then died. From the second through the eighth inning, the Cubs managed just six baserunners and only four hits, all singles (the other two runners were on a hit batsman and dropped third strike). Only one runner, Starlin Castro, made it past first base during that time, on an oddly uncontested steal of second base in the second inning. Alfonso Soriano woke up the remains of the crowd in the ninth with his seventh homer of the season, which landed about eight rows below us in the left field corner, but that was it off Huston Street, who posted his MLB-leading ninth save.
The announced crowd of 38,261 again included at least 20,000 -- and maybe closer to 25,000 -- no-shows, and even most of the 13,000-18,000 who showed up departed around 9 p.m. to watch the Blackhawks game on a night that originally threatened rain, but instead wound up seasonably cool (temperatures in the 50s) and not as windy as it appeared at first. None of the Rockies' three homers were wind-aided, but as pointed out on Twitter last night by Bruce Miles, that didn't even necessarily matter last night:
This is third game wind has blown out at Wrigley. Opposition now has 7 HR in those games. #Cubs have 0.
That cannot stand if the Cubs hope to win games. The Rockies are a very good team -- probably the best in the National League -- but the Cubs hung with them. Hanging with them, obviously, isn't enough, but they would have given themselves a better chance with an actual starting pitcher. There are some hints in this cubs.com game recap that maybe they'll do that next time. Jay Jackson. Austin Bibens-Dirkx. (Oh, how I'd love to write that name on a scorecard.) The still-being-stretched-out Doug Davis. Even Thomas Diamond or Ramon Ortiz. Seriously, anyone who's stretched out and capable of starting. Please, stop giving away games, Mike Quade, just as you said after Monday's loss:
"If you're going to get beat, you at least would not like to gift wrap the [darn] thing for the opposition," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.
This afternoon's -- all together now, "weather permitting" -- game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CDT.