Chicago, IL, USA; This could have been Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Matt Garza agonizing over the eighth inning meltdown against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field. But it wasn't. (It's from the first inning. Still like the photo, though.) Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
Why on Earth wasn't Rafael Dolis still in the game throwing the eighth inning?
Dolis threw only eight pitches in dispatching the Nationals in the seventh inning with the Cubs leading 4-2. The pitcher's spot was not due up in the first five batters in the bottom of the inning. What is it with managers that have the mindset that, "It's the eighth inning and no matter what the situation or what happened before, I am going to use the guy who is designated as my 'eighth inning guy'."
It's uncreative thinking like this that loses ballgames. Dolis looked dominant. Wood hadn't been very good on Thursday. Why not think outside the box a little?
Actually, for a time the move looked like it was working -- Wood retired the first two hitters without incident, on only five pitches. Then he served up a 3-2 meatball to Danny Espinosa for a home run. Still leading 4-3! Everything's OK, right?
Well, no, and I'll spare you the gory play-by-play, but after two more hits, Wood was lifted for Marmol and Marmol was awful. He couldn't locate his fastball or his changeup or his slider and didn't get anyone out. Finally, Shawn Camp put out the proverbial fire, but not until after allowing a single that made it 7-4 Nationals and that's how it ended, the Cubs' second straight loss to open the season.
I wonder, too, about the decision to add Rodrigo Lopez to the staff today instead of Manuel Corpas. Not because Lopez was bad this spring -- he wasn't -- but because Corpas also had a good spring, has closing experience, and could have been real useful in that eighth inning. Even Lopez might have been useful in that inning.
Marmol wasn't. Wood wasn't. I know many people here had their doubts about both of them, but did anyone think they'd be this bad in consecutive games?
Also, by not sticking with Dolis in the eighth and having Wood throw 19 pitches and Marmol 23, both of them are probably unavailable tomorrow. (Most of you would probably say that's a good thing.)
All of this ruined another very good performance by a Cubs starting pitcher. Matt Garza's only real mistake was serving up a home run to Adam LaRoche that hit the right-field foul pole after a walk in the fourth, giving Washington a 2-1 lead; the Cubs got the lead back in the bottom of the inning on a very good long-sequence offense. The first two runners reached, and after a pair of strikeouts (including Garza's second consecutive failure to get a sacrifice bunt down -- so much for the bunting contest), Reed Johnson's triple and Joe Mather's single made it 4-2 Cubs.
Where it likely would have ended if the Cubs had gotten any decent relief pitching today after the seventh inning.
The wind started Saturday afternoon blowing out, but by the middle innings of a very long game (three hours, 22 minutes) it had shifted and was a crosswind from right to left (southeast rather than straight off the lake), keeping the temperature pretty comfortable. The announced crowd of 40,102 seemed like about 33,000 in the house (bleachers not quite full, many scattered empty seats in the upper deck). I'm going to keep track of estimated no-shows again this year, this time from day one, and I'll post periodic updates on that.
It's really too bad that bullpen failures have ruined the first two games, because it does appear as if the Cubs starting rotation is going to be improved over 2011. I'd hate to think that they all have to throw complete games in order to win.