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The Forgettable Fire: Cubs 4, Cardinals 7

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Milton Bradley got jobbed today on a couple of pitches, including the pitch on which he was called out on strikes with the bases loaded, and that, justifiably, set him off. Knowing he wasn't going to stay in the game, he had a few choice words (wouldn't you like to have heard them?) with plate umpire Larry Vanover (who is one of those annoying umpires who makes delayed calls), and got tossed.

That fired up the crowd, but Alfonso Soriano flied to left to end the threat in what was at the time a 4-4 tie, and the Cubs seemed to lose interest the rest of the day; they managed only one baserunner the rest of the game and the Cardinals smacked around three relief pitchers in the 7th and 8th innings, on their way to a 7-4 defeat of the Cubs in the first meeting of the year between the division rivals.

One thing is certain: if Cub starting pitchers don't start going deeper into games, the bullpen is going to be worn out by the end of April. Today, Lou yanked Sean Marshall after he allowed a leadoff single in the sixth. Marshall had thrown 93 pitches and probably could have finished the inning. Chris Duncan, who had singled, was promptly caught stealing after Aaron Heilman came in, but Heilman then allowed Khalil Greene to hit a long homer to tie the game (after Kosuke Fukudome had given the Cubs a 4-3 lead in the last of the fifth), and then the parade of bad relief pitching began.

In the nine games so far, the number of pitchers used in each game is: 5, 5, 4, 7, 5, 4, 4, 5 and 6. This simply cannot be allowed to continue; three relievers (Neal Cotts, Aaron Heilman and Angel Guzman) have already appeared in six games. Guzman, for his part, gave up the Cardinals' third homer of the game, to Brian Barden, and my friend Dave's comment was, "He doesn't have good command of his second and third pitches; he ought to just throw four-seam fastballs and live and die with them." Which is exactly right, I think; when Guzman is on with the fastball he throws 95-96 and ought to be able to throw an inning's worth of strikeouts nearly every time he comes out there.

But the bigger issue is: when are Cub starters going to start going seven innings? That was one of the best things about Ryan Dempster last year, consistently going deep into games. Part of it is, of course, Lou trusting his starters and not burning out his bullpen. It may be only nine games, but if the current pace keeps up, that's a real risk.

Two nice things that came out of this loss: another good offensive day from Fukudome, who had a double in addition to the homer. Yes, I am well aware he did this a year ago in April, too, but as long as he keeps up what he has been doing, the Cubs have a fine platoon CF. Fukudome also made a nice grab on a sinking Rick Ankiel line drive in the second inning. Also, Alfonso Soriano is having quality at-bats every day; he walked twice again today and has six for the season -- a good number for nine games. If he keeps laying off pitches he used to flail away at, teams will have to start throwing him hittable pitches or risk putting him on base.

Nevertheless, there are three more games in this series and the Cubs should have favorable pitching matchups in all of them.

Ballpark note: the no-smoking rules aren't being enforced in the bleachers. There aren't enough security people (and there ought to be more anyway) and not enough signs letting people know that there's no smoking anywhere in the ballpark. Just something the team ought to be aware of, as a courtesy to everyone.