Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers in the second inning at Wrigley Field. Credit: David Banks-US PRESSWIRE
For about 25 minutes Monday night, the Cubs looked like a team on a mission, ready to take up the cause and beat a superior team.
Unfortunately, those 25 minutes took place at the very end of a game the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth trailing by four runs; the rally fell short and the Brewers wound up winning the first 2012 game between the division rivals 7-5.
Up until then, the Cubs looked like a team that was mostly lost. Sure, they hit two home runs, including a monster shot onto Sheffield by Bryan LaHair (his first of the year) and an unexpected blast into the left-field basket by Darwin Barney (the team's first of the year, in the first inning). Unfortunately, the issue was bullpen failure again, in a game that slogged on for a full hour longer than Sunday's (three hours, 22 minutes).
I'm still wondering, and maybe someone here can answer this question: Why is Shawn Camp on this team instead of Manuel Corpas? Camp is a 36-year-old veteran who was released by the Mariners during spring training. The Mariners, who could take extra players with them on their trip to Japan, and who could use all the bullpen help they can get, let him go -- and he's good enough for the Cubs bullpen? On what planet is this a good idea? Corpas had a good spring (although his first two Iowa appearances have been about as bad as the ones in the Cubs' major league pen) and he has major league closing experience.
I don't get it. But with the Cubs' bullpen currently having a 10.38 ERA and 2.53 WHIP in 8.2 innings (15 hits and seven walks allowed), I'm thinking changes are going to have to come sooner rather than later.
Chris Volstad, in his first Cubs start, threw way too many pitches (87 in just five innings), yet got through those innings credibly (five hits, three runs, six strikeouts) and when he departed for pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt, the game was tied, because DeWitt drove in the tying run with a sac fly after a triple (!) by Geovany Soto. That was Geo's first triple since 2009, and if you look at his baseball-reference page this morning, you'll see the "1" under triples in boldface and italics -- that means, for today, anyway, that he's tied for the major league lead in triples. (With a bunch of other people, and it's only four games, but still.)
Anyway, Camp was bad. Lendy Castillo, making his major league debut, was nearly as bad, too; he was, just as he was in spring training, wild. He hit a batter, gave up a hit, and allowed the last Milwaukee run on their second successful squeeze bunt of the evening. I still believe, as I wrote all spring, that Castillo has a great arm and is worth keeping in the organization -- if management can find a way to send him to Double-A, where he belongs at this stage of his development.
As for the ninth inning, it was a nice rally, started by an Ian Stewart double and helped out by an Aramis Ramirez error. (Now that would have been poetic justice of a sort, had that error helped lead to a Cubs victory.) But after Barney drew a walk to load the bases, Starlin Castro had a very poor at-bat. He was looking first-pitch strike when Brewers closer John Axford threw a slider; Castro had a poor swing and miss. Another slider went for a called strike two, and then, when Axford had Castro thinking slider, slider, slider, he fired a 96-mile-per-hour fastball past him for strike three to end it.
On a night when the wind was howling out toward right field at about 20 miles per hour, no balls were helped that much in that direction; LaHair's home run would have been out of the yard on any night, and the only Milwaukee homer was a screaming line drive by Rickie Weeks that made it into the first row just below me, just inside the left-field foul pole.
The reaction to Ramirez's return was somewhat muted; there was some polite applause, a few scattered boos, then not much the rest of the game.
Ryan Braun, though, got booed loudly by the announced 38,136 (maybe 26,000 in the house) every time his name was announced or he touched the ball. A large sign right behind him said "CHEATER". It didn't seem to affect him in the least and he made no acknowledgment of any kind; he had a decent day at the plate with a single, double and walk, although the crowd cheered mightily after each of his two strikeouts.
They'll do it again tonight, the Brewers and Cubs. Perhaps Theo & Jed will have figured out a fix for the bullpen problems by then. (Don't count on it.)