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At Least It Was Quick

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And that's an odd thing, too. The actual length of Tuesday night's game was 2:32; last night's 3-2 loss to the Reds timed out at 2:31.

And yet, last night's seemed much quicker, almost like a mercy killing. It wasn't just the fact that there was an hour rain delay Tuesday night, or that the Cubs won that game, either.

Here's the biggest difference: Reds pitchers threw 104 pitches last night -- that'd be 11.5 per inning.

Cubs pitchers -- all six of them, and I'll get to more of that in a moment -- threw 163. That's eighteen per inning, and yet, the one that made the difference in the game was one that Carlos Zambrano got Jason LaRue to hit right back to him. Unfortunately, he couldn't field it cleanly, and instead of getting a force at the plate -- which would have kept the score at 2-0 -- a run scored, and that became the difference-maker after Jacque Jones hit a two-run HR in the 8th.

Read that again. Jacque Jones hit a two-run HR in the 8th. Off a left-handed pitcher. His last three home runs have all been off lefties (Neal Cotts, Kent Mercker, Eric Milton). This makes very little sense, as Jones' line this year off lefties is still only .171/.194/.457 -- that's a very odd split, too; he's got six hits off lefties. Three singles, and three home runs. His overall line improved to .280/.317/.497.

Which is just about what we might have expected from him. That's decent, but it's not worth a three-year, $16 million contract.

And that is the basic problem here. Bill James once wrote, back in the 1980's about the Cleveland Indians, in one of his Baseball Abstracts: "The Indians don't have bad players. They just don't have good players. What can you do?"

Now, you might say that the Cubs do have some "bad" players, and they do (Neifi, you can come out now). But not all the Cubs are "bad" players.

At this moment in time, neither are many of them very "good", even Aramis Ramirez, who is supposed to be one of the best hitters in the National League. Milton made him look silly. Milton is a pitcher that Ramirez ought to manhandle. Instead, Aramis flied out harmlessly to right all three times he faced him. Then, when he finally faced Todd Coffey, and got a look at a different pitcher, what happened?

Grounded to third. On the first pitch. This drives me nuts. Why can't these guys take a few pitches? I repeat:

Cubs pitchers: 163 pitches.
Reds pitchers: 104 pitches.

Not only does this give the other team a chance to see more of your repertoire, if you take a few pitches (Cubs pitchers issued four walks, I don't suppose I have to tell you how many Reds pitchers gave the Cubs), but it helps you manage the bullpen better.

Had the Cubs managed to tie the game and send it to extra innings, Dusty Baker had used five relievers. Thus, only Glendon Rusch and Ryan Dempster were left in the bullpen. Sure, there's an off-day today. The use of David Aardsma in the ninth, in another one of those mindless platoon-differential switches that Baker is so fond of, was just silly.

Mike & I took all this in by ourselves, as Jeff & Howard had headed to Rockford to see the home opener for the Riverhawks, who were opening their brand-new stadium last night. They lost 3-2. (Note, at the time I posted this link, there was no boxscore available -- check back later if it's not there.) Three fairly amiable drunk twentysomethings sat in front of us, and left after the seventh inning, thus missing the only Cub excitement of the night.

What else is there to tell? The Cubs again threw away a chance to sweep a series, and now go into St. Louis with Rusch scheduled to start one of the games. Yes, that's right -- read it and weep here; Kerry Wood is being given an extra day of rest again and will start Sunday. (This has to mean that they are babying him.) Sean Marshall will throw on Friday. The problem with this is that it gives everyone else an extra day, and some pitchers -- particularly Greg Maddux, who now won't pitch again till next Monday in Houston -- don't like that.

Here's another note I simply do not understand:

Cubs manager Dusty Baker made a major decision this week on improving the infield.

No, it wasn't the addition of another second baseman. It was the lowering of the infield grass at Wrigley Field. Asked Wednesday about a rumor he had asked the grounds crew to shorten the length of the infield grass, Baker replied, "It's already been mowed."

Waidaminit. If you have speedy guys like Juan Pierre and Tony Womack who like to bunt their way on base -- wouldn't you rather have the infield grass LONGER?

If this is true -- that Baker had the ground crew cut the grass SHORTER for "speed" -- no wonder Pierre's been bunting into so many outs. The article continues:

Baker said the shorter grass potentially would help the Cubs' offense more than it would hurt Cubs pitchers. Other than Maddux, the Cubs' staff consists mostly of strikeout and fly-ball pitchers. Baker didn't tell his pitchers the infield change was coming.

"It was a secret," Baker said. "I didn't tell the pitchers. I didn't tell nobody--just Juan Pierre."

Pierre declined to talk about it, saying Baker asked him to keep it a secret.

I don't see how this could "help" the offense. Let it grow! That's how you get your guys who can bunt on base.

About the Phil Nevin deal, something occurred to me last night. The Cubs made an eerily similar acquisition on June 23, 1980, another lost year. On that date, though, they were 29-33, only 6.5 games out of first place. And they sent a PTBNL (who turned out to be Karl Pagel, a 1970's era poster boy for Cub minor leaguers who pounded AAA pitching but never hit in the majors -- sort of the David Kelton of his day) to the Indians for Cliff Johnson.

Now, Johnson could hit. I'm going to pull out another Bill James reference; of Johnson, James once wrote that (and I'm paraphrasing, as I can't remember or find the exact quote) had Johnson been installed by some team as a 1B, he might have had a 500-HR career.

But Johnson started with the Astros, and they had Bob Watson entrenched at 1B. So they tried him as a catcher, and he was bad. They tried him as an outfielder, and he was terrible.

The acquisition by the Cubs was, as it is now, a desperate attempt to add some offense. But the Cubs also had an entrenched 1B -- Bill Buckner, who won the 1980 batting title.

To attempt to get Johnson's bat in the lineup, they played Buckner in the outfield -- even a few games in center field -- something he hadn't done in four years, and something he really wasn't capable of because of his knees. That didn't work so they tried to play Johnson in left field, which was an embarrassment: three games, two putouts, one error.

Johnson didn't hit badly for the Cubs --.235/.335/.429 in 68 games, with 10 HR. That's probably about what we can expect from Nevin, and yes, he's probably going to have to embarrass himself behind the plate (when Michael Barrett serves his suspension) or in right field when Derrek Lee returns. And, after he left the Cubs, Johnson spent several years as a productive DH for the A's and Blue Jays, winding up with 196 career HR.

Just so you know.

Finally, something you might do on this off-day if you are in the northern suburbs: I got an email from Mark Lamster, who has written a new book called "Spalding's World Tour", about the 1888-89 tour that Albert G. Spalding took around the world with various ballplayers, to promote the game internationally. He will be giving a reading of his book tonight at 7 pm, at the Book Stall, 811 Elm St. in Winnetka.