Stop me if you've heard this one before.
No, wait, on second thought, don't.
There was a Chicago sportswriter in the 1940s named Warren Brown. In 1945, after the Cubs won the National League pennant and headed for the World Series against the Tigers, he was asked which team would win. Famously, he replied: "I don't think either team can win."
That's pretty much the story of the Cubs 3-2, 15-inning loss to the Padres Sunday afternoon, or evening, or both. Neither team scored at all for 12 innings, then both scored twice in the 13th, thanks to bad defense (Padres) and bad pitching (Cubs). Think the Cubs have been bad this year with RISP? Sunday was worse: 0-for-10 with 13 left on base. The Padres tried their best to match that, going 2-for-16 with 16 runners stranded.
But the real story here, as hinted in the headline, was yet another case of Dale Sveum's Bullpen Management Follies.
Let's set the scene for the mistake. The game is in the top of the eighth inning, scoreless. Darwin Barney has led off the inning with a walk. Due up next is the pitcher's spot, inhabited by Carlos Villanueva, who relieved Chris Rusin in the last of the seventh and got out of the inning on just six pitches. (Rusin threw another nice game, a good sign, perhaps, for next year.)
Dale lifted Villanueva for Logan Watkins, who sacrificed Barney to second base.
There's so much wrong with this picture that it's hard to know where to begin, but I'll give it a shot.
First, in a game where neither team has been able to score for seven innings and there appears to be at least a chance that it's heading to extras, why is Carlos Villanueva the first man out of the bullpen? Here's a perfect example of a game where you would absolutely want to have someone like this, a pitcher who has made 15 starts this year and gone six innings or more nine times, available to throw multiple extra innings.
Beyond that, you'd think a pitcher who has made 15 starts could lay down a sacrifice bunt. (He has two this season.)
Instead, Sveum burns a pitcher out of the pen after only six pitches and uses up a bench player.
Obviously, this incident isn't the direct reason for the loss, but wouldn't it have been nice to have Villanueva available to relieve Kevin Gregg after Gregg blew the game on a wild pitch in the 13th? Instead, the last man out of the pen was Hector Rondon; Rondon managed one scoreless inning, but two, in a situation like that, was too much to ask. Not only that, but get this:
Speaking of arms, Rondon was the last reliever left. [Brian] Bogusevic, who last pitched in 2012 with the Astros, would have been next if needed, Sveum said.
That's Brian Bogusevic, who was... already in the game, having driven in the second Cubs run in the 13th with a sacrifice fly. Cody Ransom was the only Cubs position player who hadn't played; I suppose Ransom would have been stuck in the outfield, where he has not played in the major leagues since 2004 nor at all since 2010.
I was at a surprise birthday party Sunday night for a dear and close friend, so I did miss part of this game, although many of the people there were Cubs and baseball fans, so we followed the extra innings, mostly with incredulity, via Gameday. When I got home I found this in my email inbox, from BCBer San Diego Smooth Jazz Man:
At least this year I stayed until the 10th inning. Horrible, listless baseball. Pitching duels can be exciting. Not this one.
Starlin Castro had two hits, his first multi-hit game in two weeks. Anthony Rizzo also had a pair of hits; he's 7-for-24 with four walks and two home runs since being moved to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. That's about the best thing I can say about this game.
Now the Cubs are in Los Angeles -- bet they just loved riding buses to L.A. from San Diego in Sunday night traffic -- where the Dodgers, on a 46-12 run, are the hottest team in 99 years, since the Miracle Braves of 1914. I don't expect them to win a single game at Dodger Stadium; maybe Dale can use this series to practice proper bullpen management. Such is the 2013 season.