Astros 4, Cubs 3: Go Blackhawks!

David Banks

That was an extremely poor showing of baseball skills by just about everyone involved: Cubs players, the Cubs manager, and the umpires. There's a reason I chose a photo of Starlin Castro bobbling a ball above; it's one of the least-bad things that happened Saturday.

I hope the hockey game is better.

Not just in the result being better for our side, but in the way it's played. The Cubs' 4-3 loss to the Astros, in addition to being dull and lugubriously-played for most of its length, was poorly managed and umpired by men who must have been watching a different game than the one played on the field.

Alfonso Soriano was safe at second base, not picked off; that alone might have changed the result of the game. So would ball four on Darwin Barney with the bases loaded, which even after the wrongly-called pickoff would have given the Cubs the lead. For his part, Soriano was diplomatic:

Well, what's he going to say to a reporter? "The umpires are blowing too many calls and we need to have replay review rightfreakingnow?" Of course not, that's for me to say. This is also a spot where Dale Sveum might have gotten a bit more animated than he did, in arguing a call that very well might have cost the Cubs the game.

The Cubs left only eight men on base, but that's mostly because they hit into two double plays, killing potential rallies.

Then there was the managing of Dale Sveum. I'm going to put this in big letters because it seems really important:

What's the point of having eight relief pitchers on this team if the manager doesn't know how to use them?

Shawn Camp managed to get Travis Wood off the hook in the seventh inning after Wood had walked the leadoff hitter, but James Russell likely would have been the better choice. (Also, Camp managed to survive a 12-pitch at-bat by Astros center fielder Brandon Barnes, getting him to pop up to Barney.) Then, why wasn't Russell in the game in the eighth instead of Blake Parker? (Okay, Parker threw a decent innning.) Or in the ninth of a tie game instead of Kevin Gregg?

Gregg's pitching wasn't awful; Justin Maxwell doubled to lead off the inning. He was then sacrificed to third. In what might have been one of the most obvious squeeze situations I've seen in recent years, Sveum didn't order a pitchout. It was a safety squeeze, but a pitchout would have at least avoided what did happen, a perfect bunt by, of all people, Ronny Cedeno.

That, as they say, was that; the Cubs couldn't do anything against Astros closer Jose Veras, who retired the side 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth for his 15th save. He got Starlin Castro to fly to center for the final out; Castro had nearly hit a home run in his previous at-bat when the wind took what looked like a lazy fly to center and shoved it all the way to the warning track, where Barnes caught it while falling down. Somehow, that epitomized this entire game. Castro, at least, seemed to have better at-bats Saturday, and did have one hit, a solid line-drive single to center in the third inning.

Once more on the eight relief pitchers: this is never, ever a good idea even if you do have some idea of how to use them, which it appears the current manager does not. That's because it leaves you with only four bench players. So in the ninth inning, trailing by a run, Sveum's options for a pinch-hitter for Gregg, scheduled to lead off the inning (since Julio Borbon had already been in the game), were:

  • Cody Ransom, who has a pinch-homer this year;
  • Dioner Navarro, who is 6-for-14 as a pinch-hitter this year and has two pinch-homers, or
  • Scott Hairston, who is 4-for-20 as a pinch-hitter this year with nine strikeouts.

If you didn't see this game, or follow the game threads, given the above description of how poorly it was managed, who do you think he chose?

Of course: Hairston, who promptly proved the above true by striking out. Seriously, Dale, what were you thinking? Navarro might have had a shot at tying up the game. Even Ransom might have had a shot at tying up the game. Hairston? Not so much. (Incidentally, Astros manager Bo Porter went along for this ride, sending starting pitcher Lucas Harrell up to bat for reliever Jose Cisnero in the top of the ninth after the run had scored. Harrell came into the game with a lifetime BA of .154, and was 1-for-3 this year. He struck out.)

You might be wondering when the Cubs are going to stop this ridiculous roster balance; they clearly need more flexibility off the bench. Unfortunately, it's not going to be Steve Clevenger:

So, who's it going to be? There's no room on the 40-man roster, so unless the Cubs want to make a deal or DFA someone, it'll have to be someone already on the 40-man> Maybe it's time to get Junior Lake to the major leagues and see what he can do. It certainly can't be any worse than the horrific exhibition of baseball we saw at Wrigley Field Saturday, ruining a pleasant afternoon, when, for once, there was no threat of rain. The in-house count was probably the largest of the year, maybe 33,000 of the announced 38,870 actually showing up.

Perhaps we will get a better show Sunday. In the meantime, GO BLACKHAWKS!

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