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Cubs' 11-6 Loss To Astros: Mental Mistakes, Bullpen Failures

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Last night's 11-6 Cubs loss to the Astros, which dropped them back into second place by 1/2 game after the Cardinals beat up on the Dodgers, turned on two plays.

The first was Kosuke Fukudome's inexplicable decision to try to stretch a routine single to center field into a double. The play was right in front of both him and Astros CF Michael Bourn; it was the leadoff play in the bottom of the first inning; why would you risk taking a runner off base when your team is already trailing 1-0? It wasn't a good idea at the time and it seemed to take a lot out of the Cubs; the next nine hitters went down in a row until there was one out in the fourth inning.

The second bad play was Ryan Dempster's decision to try for a double play with the score 2-0 and runners on first and third with nobody out in the top of the third. Miguel Tejada hit a comebacker that Dempster snagged in front of the mound. It was clearly a contact play -- Bourn, who was on third base, broke for the plate. He would have been out easily had Dempster thrown to Koyie Hill, who, according to Paul Sullivan, was yelling for the ball:

Catcher Koyie Hill was yelling at Dempster, who paid him no heed.

"I did hear him, and I think that's why I threw it in center field. When I went to throw to second, I heard 'home.' I should have known to go home. ... Bad baseball."

Don't know whether that was the rust of not pitching for four weeks or what -- even if Dempster doesn't throw the ball into CF and gets the double play, there was nobody out. A run would have scored anyway. If he throws home and gets Bourn, there might have still been time to turn a DP by getting Tejada at 1B, and even if that didn't happen, the next two hitters were routine outs. That would have left the score 2-0 instead of 4-0, because one of those outs became a sacrifice fly.

And the Cubs would have had a better shot at the game that way. Roy Oswalt left the game in the second inning with a lower back strain. Reliever Wesley Wright retired the first five batters he faced but then completely lost his control. This isn't totally surprising -- Wright is generally used as a LOOGY and the 13 batters he faced last night was the most in his major league career. Five walks, a sacrifice fly and a single later, the Cubs were back in the game trailing only 4-3. The single was by Reed Johnson -- a very early use of a PH in the fourth inning if you're not going to leave him in the game. This, and a double-switch made in the sixth after Lou again failed to understand that Sean Marshall could actually throw to more than four batters, left the Cubs short of bench players quite early in the game.

Dempster gave it back in the fifth, allowing a two-run HR to Tejada, but the Cubs tied it in the last of the fifth on Aramis Ramirez's three-run shot.

And then the bullpen failed. They got out of the sixth with no damage, but Angel Guzman gave up a HR to Geoff Blum and then in the eighth, Kosuke Fukudome just missed a diving catch on a Jeff Keppinger ball that wound up as a two-run triple. It wouldn't have been an easy play, but if Fukudome can grab that ball, the score remains 7-6 going into the last of the 8th -- an entirely different game.

The Cubs' five-game winning streak is over; it happens. The Cubs had enough baserunners, despite having only five hits; Astros pitchers issued ten walks -- all unintentional -- but the Cubs really took advantage of them only in the fourth inning, when the five walks given led to three runs. Dempster's pitching and defense showed the rust from his layoff; maybe a rehab start wouldn't have been such a bad idea. Speaking of rehab, B.J. Ryan made his first appearance for Iowa (OK, technically, it's not a rehab assignment, but the Cubs are trying to "rehabilitate" him), throwing 11 pitches (five strikes) in a scoreless inning with one walk. It's a start, anyway. He'll make up to six appearances there before the Cubs decide what to do with him; he has to be recalled within 15 days of last night or be released.

With Ted Lilly on the DL, they may need him before the 15 days are up. Today's pregame thread will post at 11:30 am CDT.