Brewers 6-3, Cubs 5-2: Bring On The Robot Umpires

Brian Kersey

The Cubs lost two games Tuesday. It wasn't all the umpires' fault... but the second game was.

Not really knowing where to start writing about seven hours and five minutes of Cubs defeats means, predictably, I suppose, that I'll start at the end.

Kevin Gregg should have saved the doubleheader's second game, because he had the Brewers' Logan Schafer struck out with runners on first and second. Then he had Jeff Bianchi struck out -- twice -- with the bases loaded.

Unfortunately, plate umpire Jim Wolf did not agree with my assessment (and the assessment of the remnant of a cold, damp, wet crowd and, from what I understand, the assessment of the television audience). Wolf refused to call pitches that were strikes, strikes. Segura wound up with an infield single; Schafer drew a walk to load the bases. Then Bianchi lined a ball that Starlin Castro dived at, had in his glove, then lost for a two-run single. Was that dive made the right way? I thought it was extraordinary effort that just missed; others disagreed.

Whatever the case, it resulted in a 3-2 loss to the Brewers when the Cubs couldn't score off Milwaukee closer Jim Henderson in the bottom of the ninth, and a doubleheader sweep for the visitors.

I've been consistently in favor of replay review for at least five years; it's supposedly going to happen in 2014 for plays in the field, but I'll believe it when I see it. Now, after seeing Wolf's ridiculous calls in the ninth, put me firmly on the robot umpire bandwagon for calling balls and strikes. We shouldn't have different strike zones for different umpires. There's a rule-book strike zone. Obviously, it's different for tall and short players, but that's easy to adjust for by programming the ball-and-strike computer that you'd have for each individual player's height.

This is entirely consistent with my belief that the results on the field should reflect what the players actually do, rather than what one man, or four, dressed in black (or blue) think. Keep those men on the field to keep order and make calls on the bases (subject to review), but get them out of the ball-and-strike business. We have the technology; it would eliminate arguments completely; it would probably speed up the games.

Especially games like Wednesday's. Three hours and 45 minutes for a nine-inning first game? Brewers pitchers threw 184 pitches, Cubs pitchers hurled 149. Foul ball after foul ball, in a game dotted by an annoying little rain shower (figures, right, for the makeup of a game rained out in April) in the first inning, and another in the ninth. That game was winnable, too; why on Earth was James Russell (who's become more of a LOOGY this year due to his sudden inability to get RH-hitting batters out) in to face Khris Davis, a right-handed power hitter who can hit baseballs as far as the other guy whose name is pronounced, but not spelled, the same way? A 5-2 lead. Just two outs to go in the seventh inning. But Davis launched Russell's first pitch into the right-field bleachers, tying the game, and then Russell gave up two more hits, enough to give the Brewers a 6-5 lead after the Cubs had put together a really nice five-run fifth inning on six hits and a walk. That had erased an earlier 2-0 deficit off Carlos Villanueva, who deserved better. The Cubs had a shot at it in the bottom of the ninth after Blake Parker threw two really nice scoreless innings; a pair of two-out walks put the tying run on second base (one of the walks going to Welington Castillo after he nearly won the game; his homer-distance shot went about 10 feet foul), but Cody Ransom flew to center to end it for a 6-5 Cubs defeat.

The length of the game should tell the Cubs one thing: even if you have a night game before a split doubleheader, play the first game at noon. Game 1 ended at almost 5:10, which is after the gates would normally open for a night game. The cleanup crew did a pretty nice job of getting the place cleaned up after the original crowd left, but the lines to get in wound up being long, as they couldn't open up for Game 2 until 6:10 or so.

The story of the second game, beyond Jim Wolf's miserable ball-and-strike calls, was Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had an excellent Cubs debut, not giving up his first hit until the fourth inning, then allowing just that hit (a double to Schafer) and a solo home run by Juan Francisco, before leaving after six strong innings. Arrieta has electric stuff and he has said he doesn't want to go back to Iowa. He made a good case for sticking around. Even issuing three walks didn't drive up his pitch count; he left after 93 pitches and six innings, and probably could have gone another inning if Dale had wanted him to. Michael Bowden threw two very strong scoreless relief innings while the Cubs took a 2-1 lead on two Milwaukee errors and a two-run double into the gap by David DeJesus, until Wolf decided to give the game to the Brewers in the ninth, while yet another spitty little rain shower passed through the area.

I found it completely amusing that Twitter was, um, atwitter with "ZOMG Nate Schierholtz isn't playing the second game even though a RHP is starting HE MUST BE GETTING TRADED!" Maybe Dale just wanted to give Cole Gillespie a start. Darwin Barney wasn't in the lineup for Game 2 either. Did that mean he was getting dealt? Of course not. Too much reading of non-existent tea leaves, in my view. I saw one tweet Tuesday night, referring to the near-deadline hysteria, that read, "Isn't this fun?" My answer to that is, "Not really." I began reading this Twitter feed instead, which I found much more amusing than the actual trade rumors.

There are just a few hours left until the deadline at 3 p.m. CDT Wednesday afternoon. We'll be keeping track of any trades that come down involving the Cubs, and really, they ought to trade Gregg this afternoon, though nothing is guaranteed. And then there will be another game tonight, as the Cubs try to squeeze one win out of this four-game set against Milwaukee. What is it about N.L. Central teams? The Cubs are now 15-31 against the N.L. Central and 33-27 against everyone else, including 9-7 against the A.L. West. Maybe the Cubs should have moved there instead of the Astros. (Joke! Not serious!)

And please. No more rainouts this season. One split doubleheader (and the Pirates and Cardinals, who were also rained out in April, played a single-admission doubleheader in Pittsburgh Tuesday) a year is enough.

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