Pirates 5, Cubs 4: Bullpen Mismanagement

Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

Could the Cubs have won Tuesday night's game with better relief work? Yes, and part of that is on manager Dale Sveum's choices.

I'll never criticize Matt Garza again.

Wait, that's not true. Of course I will, if Garza does anything on the baseball field worth criticizing. But Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, Garza did everything right. Pitching? Check. Five innings, 82 pitches, one single and three walks allowed. Fielding? Check. Made a nice play on a ground ball moving away from him and took the play himself. Hitting? Check. Garza, a notoriously poor hitter, smashed a two-run double into right-center field. Garza was awesome. I hope every single one of his starts is like that one.

What I am going to criticize is Dale Sveum's bullpen management, which was atrociously bad Tuesday night.

Let's think about this for a moment. Garza's return meant that Carlos Villanueva shifted to the bullpen. Carlos Villanueva, who has been stretched out to start multiple innings, going at least five innings in all eight of his starts. Carlos Villanueva, whose turn it would have been to start Tuesday night if Garza hadn't been ready.

So, Dale, why wasn't Carlos Villanueva in the game after Garza? If you're going to take Garza out after 82 pitches -- and although Garza was cruising and probably could have gone one more inning, I don't have a huge quibble with removing him after five -- why wasn't the one guy who can be an effective long reliever on your staff in the game? Villanueva could have gone two innings, likely without incident, and the Cubs, who had a 3-0 lead going into the sixth, might have won the game.

Instead, we got Hector Rondon, who had trouble throwing strikes, an ineffective James Russell (who walked the only man he faced; yet another issue with Sveum -- he uses Russell as a LOOGY), and Shawn Camp, who gave up a pinch-hit grand slam to Travis Snider that provided the eventual margin of victory in a 5-4 Pirates win that dropped the Cubs' record in one-run games to 6-11.

Many of us were wondering why Camp was kept on the roster instead of Michael Bowden. We're still wondering.

Credit to Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg for keeping the game close. The Cubs managed to score a run off Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who hadn't allowed even a baserunner in his previous six appearances, but that provided just moral victory, rather than actual victory. Me, I'd rather have the latter.

In addition to Garza, the offensive star of the game for the Cubs was Darwin Barney, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Barney's now hitting .223/.316/.379; the .690 OPS is still too low, although it's now higher than his .653 from 2012 and his current OPS+ is 90, getting back toward league average. Get that OPS over .700 and with Barney's defense, he's still a valuable player.

Another winnable game down the drain, this time because of bad bullpen management. Beyond using the wrong pitcher(s) to relieve Garza, Sveum wound up having to use three relievers in the sixth inning and two more after that. What if the Cubs tie the game up and go into extra innings? Sure, Villanueva's still there, and he can go multiple innings. But after the parade of relievers between the sixth and eighth innings Tuesday night, it would have been just Villanueva and Kyuji Fujikawa for however many extra innings there were.

The two teams will go at it again Wednesday night, weather permitting.

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