Yes, I know. That's a cliché. But it really is true. Look, for example, at the sidebar box that has the best starts for Cub teams since 1900. Even the 1906 Cubs -- who still hold the ML record for wins in a season, 116 (tied by the 2001 Mariners, managed by Lou Piniella, to keep this somewhat on-topic), lost about a quarter of their games.
This recap of last night's 2-1 Cub loss to the Marlins will be mercifully short, first because there isn't a whole lot to say, and second, because there's an early (noon CT) start today and I know everyone would rather put last night behind us and start looking forward to this afternoon.
Last night's game turned on three things:
- Alfonso Soriano getting picked off in the first inning
- Lou's decision to intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez in the fifth
- The Cubs' failure to drive in runners from scoring position
Or, in fact, drive them in from anywhere. The Cubs stranded 13 men, and left RISP in the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th and 9th innings... and scored only on Henry Blanco's third homer of the season. Blanco is having the best offensive season of his career, hitting sixty points over his lifetime average. Len & Bob called him "the perfect backup catcher", and I think that's just about right. Blanco isn't a great hitter by any means, but he hits enough considering his defensive abilities -- he calls a fine game and last night, threw out H. Ramirez trying to steal third, which seemed important at the time.
Ultimately, it didn't mean anything, because the Cubs couldn't get the one key hit that they needed -- it seemed, for a Jack Brickhouse "hot minute there", that they might tie the game on Reed Johnson's 7th-inning single, but it was too shallow -- Soriano was held at third, and that was the right decision; he'd have been thrown out by twenty feet.
Also props to Sean Marshall, who pitched out of several jams and set a career high in strikeouts. I did note this post suggesting that maybe Marshall could be moved into the 5th spot in the rotation, and he did throw only 77 pitches last night -- but Jason Marquis has done a decent job in that spot, too. Isn't it nice to know the Cubs have someone who can step in if necessary? This was the right slot to put Marshall in, and if he's needed to slot into a spot start along the way, I believe Lou now has enough confidence in him to do it again. The decision to intentionally pass H. Ramirez was, I think, a no-brainer, given that he had already homered and doubled off Marshall, but it backfired when Cody Ross singled in what was the eventual winning run on Marshall's next pitch.
Lou also made an odd decision to send up Carlos Zambrano to hit for Bob Howry in the 7th inning. Granted that there was a RHP on the mound, and there wasn't another LH batter on the bench (except for Jason Marquis), but pinch-hitting Z is something you do in the early innings of a blowout, not in the late innings of a close game. Z is now 1-for-5 with a sac bunt in six PH appearances this year.
Just so you don't think I always criticize Bob Howry, he threw a solid, scoreless inning in a situation where the team needed him to do so. That had to be a confidence-builder; now let's see him do it again. Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Marmol also threw well and at least kept the game close to give the offense a chance.
Which they didn't take, and it happens, even to good teams. Give the other guys credit -- the Marlins did their jobs, too. Maybe if Soriano doesn't get picked off in the first inning, the Cubs take advantage and get Anibal Sanchez out of there earlier, given his wildness (five walks). Cub fans swelled the crowd in Miami to 39,124, their biggest crowd of the year and more than double the Marlins' dead-last in MLB season average, and on TV it sounded like a home game. Let's do that again today and take the series, and hope the Dodgers can take theirs too -- the Brewers beat them in 10 innings last night, cutting the Cubs' lead back to 4.5 games. The pregame thread will post at 10:30 am CT.