By now, if you are a regular reader of this site, you know that I am by nature an optimist; I try to find the good in things and don't rip unless things seem eminently rippable.
Today, I really don't have many positive things to say about the worst-looking loss the Cubs have had since last year's NLDS, 7-1 to the Reds in front of a crowd of... well, hang on a second, let me look this up because they never did announce the attendance at the park as they usually do in the middle of the 8th inning (embarrassed, were they? or maybe we are for going?) ... 40,039, and it looked like most seats were filled on an afternoon where the sun never did come out as strongly as promised, and the near-70 degree promised temperature never got out of the mid-50s.
Other than Carlos Zambrano, who threw seven credible innings and if not for an error by Micah Hoffpauir, would have allowed only three runs (while striking out seven and making efficient use of his 109 pitches), Alfonso Soriano, who had two hits and, at least temporarily, saved a run by getting the umpires to hold up play for "ball in ivy" (how do you do that when there are no leaves on the branches?) and Kosuke Fukudome, who had four more good plate appearances, hit the ball hard three times (one hit) and walked, the Cubs pretty much phoned this one in.
The bottom line on Hoffpauir is: he's not an outfielder. Let's repeat that, so that Lou can hear: he's not an outfielder. This is what you get when you try to squeeze someone into a role for which he is not suited. Hoffpauir failed to catch a ball hit by Chris Dickerson in the third -- now, I'm going to be fair on that one. It was hit into the well in a spot that's tough for a lot of outfielders to play. However! A regular outfielder would probably have tried to hold up, let the ball come back to him, and perhaps hold Dickerson to a double, or maybe even a single if he got the right bounce. Instead, Hoffpauir tried to make a circus catch and got burned. That led to the Reds' first run.
The other play, on what should have been a clean single to right, he simply overran -- looked like he took his eye off the ball, or didn't get his glove down quickly enough, or both. That led to at least one run directly, and if that's a single played properly, perhaps the runner on second, Brandon Phillips, holds at third -- remember, it was a 2-1 game at the time.
This team just doesn't seem to be constructed very well. With Milton Bradley sitting until he's "completely healthy", the Cubs have few outfield choices. Could Lou have started Joey Gathright today in CF and moved Fukudome to RF? Sure, but that hurts the offense. I really didn't understand why, after Hoffpauir's at-bat in the 7th, why Lou didn't double-switch Reed Johnson into the game when Neal Cotts came in to pitch. And further, read Lou's quotes from the above linked article:
"I don't play people unless they're totally healthy," Piniella said. "That's been my M.O. throughout my managerial career. With Milton, when he's ready to play, I'll put him out there.
"I told him, basically, I'll take him out of the fourth hole when he comes back and put him in the sixth hole, where he might be a little more comfortable, and we'll go from there," Piniella said. "When I get him out there, I expect him to run hard and play hard the way he always has."
Doesn't sound like Lou's real happy with Bradley. I know Lou would like to hit Milton cleanup, between Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, to split up the two righthanded hitters. Who's going to hit fourth when Bradley comes back?
Give a little credit to Aaron Harang, who looked like the pre-2008 Harang this afternoon. The Cubs did hit several balls in the direction of right-center field that would have been in the bleachers on any day where the wind wasn't blowing across from the southeast.
Anyway, enough. I don't even want to get into the bad performances of Neal Cotts (who may, from what I heard today, be replaced by Jason Waddell sooner rather than later) and Jeff Samardzija (whose motion, my friend Dave said, looks completely different, with a changed arm slot that may make him more susceptible to injury). The Cubs are 8-6 and, believe it or not, playing at that percentage all season would result in a 93-win year. But they are going to have to play better than this, especially going to play the Cardinals in their own ballpark (where they are 8-2 so far in 2009).