Even I, the eternal optimist, have to admit that the task of making a baseball miracle and getting this Cubs team into the playoffs is probably impossible now.
The Cubs lost to the Reds 7-5 on another sun-kissed September afternoon that reminded all of us of the summer we missed, both baseball-wise and weatherwise. That wasn't the entire story, of course; the Cubs made a stirring comeback from a 5-0 deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the 7th, only to lose.
Wasn't that about the story of the entire season? We got teased from time to time, the team making us think they were about to make an extended run and get back into the race, only to fall back and have reality set in.
Today, the Cubs gave the Reds six outs in the third inning and no team can expect to overcome bad play like that. They were, in fact, lucky to get out of that inning with only two runs scoring. One of the three Cub errors in that inning was an unlucky one -- Aramis Ramirez couldn't have aimed the throw on Drew Stubbs' grounder better than he actually threw it. The ball hit Corky Miller in the helmet and ricocheted at least 100 feet away into about the fifth row behind the Cubs dugout. A run scored and runners wound up on second and third. This was after Derrek Lee, as sure-handed a fielder as the Cubs have, fumbled a bunt attempt by pitcher Johnny Cueto, which should have been an automatic out.
Even after that, the Cubs could have gotten out of the inning with no runs scoring. Darnell McDonald hit a ball to Ryan Theriot, who threw home to get Cueto. That left runners on first and third with one out, and Randy Wells got the tough Joey Votto to hit a grounder right to Lee for what should have been an inning-ending double play. Unfortunately, Theriot dropped the ball, and Brandon Phillips' subsequent single scored the second run of the inning.
Both of those runs were unearned due to the errors, and the three runs that scored in the third should have been unearned, too; Votto's ball that glanced off Lee's glove was scored a hit, but should have also been an error. That could have been a double play, too, and then even after a pair of walks Jonny Gomes' grounder would have ended the inning with no runs scoring.
Randy Wells deserved better, and the bullpen did a good job of keeping the Reds at five runs while the Cubs were hurriedly catching up; Geovany Soto, whose bat has come alive in this series, hit doubles in the sixth and seventh innings, driving in three of the five runs the Cubs scored to come back and tie. Ramirez was thrown out at the plate -- I would have sent him too, with two out and the tying run already in. It took a perfect throw and relay to get him.
But then, Carlos Marmol came in. Marmol has been very good since being anointed closer, but this was not a save situation and Marmol pitched like the old, bad, pre-closer Marmol. Even after a slick DP got him to two out and no one on, he walked a pair and gave up a two-run double to a .176 hitter, Drew Sutton. (Can you tell the difference between Drew Stubbs and Drew Sutton? I can't.) How can you do that? In any case, Angel Guzman should have been in this game instead of Marmol, but apparently, Guzman is deep in Lou's doghouse after the two had words the other day in Pittsburgh when Guzman didn't agree with Lou's decision to yank him.
That simply can't happen. Guzman was wrong to do that, but at a certain point, the manager has to put the guy in the game who has the best chance of doing the job at hand. In this case, in a tie game in the ninth inning, it was Guzman's role, not Marmol's.
So at this point, what to do? Play guys who have a chance to be contributors next year. Bobby Scales, thank you for your moment in the sun, but you're not going to be a Cub in 2010. Jake Fox should be in LF every day while Alfonso Soriano is on the shelf, in order to either determine his role in 2010 or increase his trade value. Same for Andres Blanco; he should be playing SS every day, particularly since Theriot is hitting .211 since August 15. Let's find out whether Blanco is someone who could be the primary backup infielder next year. And let's not put Aaron Miles into any more games, please.
I'll have lots more to say about 2010 once this season has finally ended. It's been difficult -- as you all well know -- in many ways. Until then, try to enjoy the rest of the season; perhaps there will be a thrilling comeback win, or a great individual performance to enjoy. It's still baseball, and we all love the game, or at least I hope you do. We'll miss it when winter comes. And next year will bring new ownership and new hope. Keep the faith; someday, the Cubs WILL win the World Series. In the meantime, I'm off to the U2 concert tonight at Soldier Field; maybe I'll see you there.