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Bullpen Failure Costs Cubs, Dempster Sunday's Game

It's a good thing Ryan Dempster is such a good guy, or he'd probably be taking his frustrations out on his bullpen this evening on the trip to New York.

Dempster had an outstanding outing, going 7.2 innings and allowing just four singles and a pair of walks. Unfortunately, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall couldn't hold the lead and the Cubs lost to the Astros 3-2 in their first extra-inning game of the year (when the game went to the 10th, Mike asked me if I was ready for 20 innings today. Answer, in 44-degree temperatures: "No.")

Here's where today's problem lies: Lou Piniella. How many times did I, and many of you, bitch last year about his propensity to use Sean Marshall as a LOOGY? More than I can recall. And Marshall has done a good job this year. Today, though -- here's the occasion where you absolutely, positively have to bring in a LOOGY to throw to Michael Bourn, with two out in the 8th and Dempster already at 115 pitches.

Instead, Lou left Dempster in and he walked Bourn. Carlos Marmol then came in to give up a single to Jeff Keppinger, who has a .281 lifetime BA but came into today's game with a .312 BA (and .376 OBA) against the Cubs. Still, that made the score only 2-1, with the Cubs still leading.

Marmol got an easy first ninth inning out on one pitch, but Hunter Pence hit a ball just past Ryan Theriot and Aramis Ramirez. Pence stole second, but it didn't matter -- Geoff Blum hit a ball into the RF corner, tying the game (Pence would have scored from first easily). Blum is the kind of guy who seems to love situations like that.

I don't think I need to recap the 10th -- when Lou finally put Marshall in the game; suffice to say that the called third strike on Ryan Theriot in the bottom of the inning looked way out of the strike zone, and by the time Derrek Lee swung at a high fastball to end it, the Cubs had squandered many chances to score, including leaving the winning run on second with two out in the ninth.

Lou said in his postgame remarks that he's going to shake up the lineup vs. LHP, letting Marlon Byrd lead off, and dropping Theriot to eighth. The Cubs will face at least two lefties -- Jon Niese and Oliver Perez -- and might face Johan Santana on Thursday, during the Mets series. This might work, I guess, although Byrd's OBA this year is only .220. He also said that he might bat Xavier Nady fourth vs. LHP, so that when he switches Nady out for defense, the LH hitters won't be stacked up.

The problem isn't scoring runs, or the lack thereof, although that would have helped today. The problem is the repeated bullpen failure. There's no way the Cubs should lose a series to a team as bad as the Astros; today's loss makes the Cubs 2-4 in one-run games, and given the fact that they have now led -- at one time or another -- in eleven of the twelve games played so far (every one except yesterday), the culprit is clear: bullpen, bullpen, bullpen.

The only good news is: it's still very early, only 12 games into the season, and no one in the NL Central is playing great baseball. After 12 games in the 2008 season, the Cubs were 7-5, only two games better off than they are now. On to the road trip... and bullpen, please pitch better.