Cubs' record in all other games: 31-36
Neifi! isn't a bad player. He's just not a very GOOD player; he has his uses, and bench players have to start once in a while. But he should never, EVER bat second. We've all agreed on this. I simply cannot fathom why Dusty Baker continues to do this. The only way to stop it would be to remove him from the roster, and even THAT might not stop Baker from writing his name on a lineup card.
Maybe Baker's pissed at Neifi! for the dramatic game-winning HR he hit on September 27, 1998, a walk-off job that prevented Baker's Giants from winning the wild card outright (never mind that the Giants blew a 7-0 lead in that game), and forced the dramatic tiebreaker game the next day, which the Cubs won, and thus went on to the postseason, while Dusty and the Giants stayed home -- and so maybe Baker's taking out his anger on that eight-year-old homer on us Cubs fans.
I know, that's ridiculous, but so is any other explanation of why Neifi! continues to bat second. Incidentally, the day he hit that walk-off job in Denver? He was batting second.
I cannot figure out what is up with Carlos Zambrano. He's always walked a fair number of hitters (3.5 per 9 innings last year, about the same in 2004), but this year he's walked more than five hitters per nine innings. Only the fact that he's allowed only 126 hits in 170 innings has kept his WHIP at 1.30, a reasonable ratio which is close to his career average of 1.28. It's got to be the influence of Larry Rothschild, who likes his pitchers to "nibble"; Z used to be more of a ground-ball pitcher even when he was throwing 95+ MPH. This year, he'll likely set a career high for strikeouts (220 or so) and also lead the league in walks.
This is yet another reason why Rothschild, Baker and the entire staff have to go. They've made a caricature out of this team. The Cubs are leading the major leagues in walks and strikeouts. The last time a club led BOTH leagues in BOTH categories was the 1989 Texas Rangers, who had a still-fireballing Nolan Ryan (301 K's). The 2003 Cubs led the National League in both categories -- maybe this is why the coaching staff thinks it's so great to do this; that team won by doing that, so why can't they keep doing that?
This is the sort of "it worked once, so I'm going to keep doing it till it works again" thinking that dooms Dusty Baker to managerial failure. Baker had this bizarre quote in the AP game summary:
That same article, incidentally, said Zambrano is 24. He turned 25 on June 1.
And I'm spilling all this angst after a WIN. Phil Nevin provided all the offense with a two-run homer and a RBI single (trade him! NOW!), Ryan Dempster allowed his traditional ninth-inning baserunner but then induced Willy Taveras to ground into the aforementioned game-ending DP, and the Cubs shut out the Astros for the third time this year (of five team shutouts; the other two were back-to-back jobs over the Nationals on May 16 and 17). Savor it for a few hours; tonight's on-paper mismatch (Mateo vs. Clemens) might not be so enjoyable.