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Why Defense Matters

Here are the primary reasons why the Cubs lost 7-5 to the Pirates this afternoon.

Third inning; after the first two hitters made easy (well, at least easy after a dropped third strike resulted in a throw-out at first) outs, the Pirates' Chris Duffy beat out an infield hit.

Then he took off to steal second, and Henry Blanco threw him out.

Well, he WOULD have thrown him out if Mr. Looks-Like-A-Major-Leaguer-But-Really-Isn't Freddie Bynum didn't drop the throw.

This would have ended the inning - or maybe it would have ended earlier if Sean Marshall hadn't messed up trying to cover first base on Duffy's hit in the first place; instead, Jon and I looked at the pitch count and Marshall had to throw twelve more pitches and allowed a run after a Xavier Nady single.

In the next inning, after a walk and another single, Aramis Ramirez fielded a ground ball at third and started a 5-4-3 double play.

Or, at least he would have if Freddie ("I'm Wearing A Major League Uniform, Isn't It Cool?") Bynum hadn't dropped the throw. They credited the out at 2nd. Had the DP been completed, Humberto Cota's fly ball to center would have ended the inning, and maybe Marshall (who threw twenty-five more pitches after that, and 69 for his four innings) might have been able to stay in the game rather than allow five runs in four innings and get lifted for Carlos Marmol.

That's what good defense can do for you -- the Cubs probably should have won this game 5-1 or 5-2, instead of heading into the ninth inning in a tie game. It was exciting to have Marmol and Scott Moore both hit their first major league homers in the same game (security brought out team-signed balls to exchange for the actual HR balls with the bleacherites who caught them; Jon and I said as one, "Those balls aren't worth very much, unless there's a Greg Maddux signature on them!"), but ultimately, it was meaningless after Duffy (who had ZERO home runs this year coming into the game, and only one in nearly 400 career AB) homered a second time off Scott Eyre in the ninth -- this after Dusty Baker left Eyre in specifically to throw to him. Then Ryan Dempster put the reverse exclamation point on this game, coming in and allowing another home run to Nady. (In fact, both Baker and Jim Tracy made several mindless, useless mid-inning pitching changes, taking a game which had been fast-paced and making it last just under three hours at 2:58.)

See, this is the sort of thing Maddux was talking about the other day when he said he appreciated the defense behind him. The Cubs have been a putridly bad defensive team this year; we've talked about the bad outfield defense (no throwing arms, or inaccurate ones), the bad infield defense (every time Cedeno picks up the ball when there's a runner on third, you just KNOW he's going to throw it away), and there is absolutely NO way Bynum and Cedeno should ever, EVER appear in the same game as a DP combination.

I have written about this several times before. That is the worst DP combination in the history of this franchise, and although at first -- given the 130-year history of the Cubs -- that seems like a harsh judgment, they are apparently willing to prove me right every time they pick up a baseball.

As I said, it should have been a nice, pick-me-up victory -- Marmol not only homered, but threw two good innings; Moore also doubled for his first major league hit, and the Cub pitching staff combined for eleven strikouts, not that strikeouts should be the be-all and end-all of getting outs.

And that ruined an otherwise gorgeous early-fall afternoon on which I made a reacquaintance with another guy named Mike (he's from Indiana, and used to sit with me often back in the 90's), who happened to show up today. I had forgotten about how much we enjoyed analyzing situations back in the days when the bleachers were nearly as empty as they were today; he told me he'd just returned from one of Jay Buckley's baseball bus tours, which I have never taken but I understand they're quite well-run and you get to see a lot of baseball in different cities (Mike said he saw that Tigers-Yankees game which was won by Craig Monroe's HR, and the game in Boston where Alex Rios batted a ball over the fence for a HR). He said he's going to join us more often next year.

At which time we hope massive changes will have been made. The announced crowd of 27,105 again seemed about half that many in the ballpark, a few more in the bleachers today due to the nice weather. I'd suspect that next week, when the Dodgers -- and likely Maddux next Thursday -- will be the opponent, the attendance may bounce up a bit. The Dodgers have always been a popular opponent; they're in a playoff race and in addition to Maddux, they have several other popular ex-Cubs on their club. If the weather is decent, I'd expect larger crowds, particularly if Maddux does indeed wind up throwing on Thursday. This is no indicator for 2007's attendance patterns; it's simply a reflection on the OTHER team's popularity.

Finally, I want to say a word today about someone I've known for several years, longtime bleacher season ticket holder George Wiseman. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with mouth cancer, and has undergone several painful surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Today, he came back to the bleachers for the first time since all this began, and though he can't talk (his mouth is still quite swollen), he carries around a notepad, writes notes, and I had a nice conversation with him. Though he said (well, wrote) that things are rough at times, he's intending to make it through, and come back next year to see better things. Wish he'd have seen a win today. And so, in thinking about complaining again about this team's management and play, think about George, and know that adversity comes in many forms. We're all pulling for him to come through.