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Bullpen Meltdown Dooms Cubs: Heilman Awful In 8-3 Loss To Cardinals

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There's absolutely nothing good to say about the Cubs' 8-3 loss to the Cardinals this afternoon, so I'm not even going to try.

Wait. Yes, there is ONE good thing. Derrek Lee slammed a three-run homer in the fourth inning that gave the Cubs a brief 3-3 tie and some hope that even though Rich Harden had no command nor control, the Cubs might pull this one out anyway. (Harden ranked pretty high on the cliche-meter in the postgame news conference, saying all the right things about "getting them next time" but not really having any answers for why his ERA is heading toward six.)

Even after Albert Pujols poked a wind-aided HR into the CF basket in the fifth inning, the 4-3 deficit didn't seem insurmountable -- until Aaron Heilman came into the game. Really, Jim Hendry -- this was a completely worthless acquisition. Heilman simply can't throw strikes -- he issued three walks in the inning. 34 pitches, 14 strikes. That's just not major league quality. And back to Harden for a moment -- what on Earth was he doing walking Chris Carpenter? Coming into today's game, Carpenter had a lifetime BA of .097 and 8 -- EIGHT -- walks in 282 career plate appearances. How can you walk a guy like that?!?!? Just throw him strikes!

Back to the sixth inning, if you can stand it -- Alfonso Soriano made this ridiculous inning worse by calling Ryan Theriot off of a popup into short left that Theriot had a bead on, and dropping it. Oh, sure, he managed to throw to second to force a very surprised Rick Ankiel, but a run scored. No run would have scored had Theriot caught the popup -- it was too shallow. Then Heilman wild-pitched in another run.

If those two plays don't happen, maybe they get out of the inning down only 6-3 and, since it was just the top of the sixth, the Cubs could have come back. But I'm sure you have seen many times when a team plays that badly and puts up a huge deficit and it simply deflates them -- that's what happened here, as the next eight Cubs went down meekly. Carpenter struck out the side in the sixth, after having only three K's before that, and no Cub got a hit until Soriano plunked a meaningless double down the line in the eighth.

I don't know what more to say -- this team isn't that bad, but the play of certain players is mind-boggling. Could Soriano really have declined this quickly, or is he hurt? Could Harden be hurt still? He's not anything close to the lights-out guy who threw so well last summer. Could Heilman be -- OK, let's not get carried away, Heilman probably is this bad. And after putting Kosuke Fukudome in the leadoff spot for several days, Lou sat Milton Bradley today. Sure, that's fine if that's what he wanted to do, but if you are trying to establish Fukudome at leadoff, leave him there and move other players around.

Jeff Stevens made a decent ML debut, having a 1-2-3 ninth inning, though it was the bottom of the Cardinals order and it took a nice running catch by Fukudome (who made a couple of those today and who looks much better in RF than CF) on Joe Thurston's drive to do it. In the battle of the Hoffpauirs, Micah had a pinch-hit double and the Cardinals' Jarrett had a pinch-walk, but then got thrown out trying to take third base after Jeff Samardzija threw a bunt attempt away. (Maybe I should stop here.)

The game was rain-delayed for 38 minutes. This isn't an excuse, but the weather this spring and early summer has been worse than I can remember. I checked my scorecards. In addition to the three rainouts in half a season, there have been no fewer than eight other games that have had various lengths of rain delays -- 11 of the scheduled 45 home games so far (42 have been played), nearly a quarter, affected in some way by rain.

The Cubs are still looking for players. As you know, Geovany Soto was placed on the DL today and may be out a month. The Cubs put in a claim for the Phillies' Chris Coste, who was waived. Unfortunately, the Astros, who started today 1/2 game behind the Cubs and who thus were ahead of them in the claim line, also filed a claim and so Coste will become an Astro.

All the Cubs can do is try to even the series tomorrow. Until then.